Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /home/kfinancial/public_html/wp-content/plugins/seo-internal-links/seo-links.php on line 112
Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /home/kfinancial/public_html/wp-content/plugins/seo-internal-links/seo-links.php on line 306
Notice: get_currentuserinfo is deprecated since version 4.5.0! Use wp_get_current_user() instead. in /home/kfinancial/public_html/wp-includes/functions.php on line 3853
Elon Musk, the visionary who built SpaceX and Tesla, has outlined his latest plan to build a network of high-speed freeways deep underneath Los Angeles, starting from a 500-foot-long experimental tunnel now under construction in Hawthorne.
Musk addressed the most glaring potential road blocks, such as the incredibly high cost and low productivity of tunneling, in a 40-minute TED Talk interview Friday at the end of the TED2017 conference in Vancouver titled “The Future You.”
“Right now, I think one of the most soul-destroying things is traffic,” Musk said. “It takes away so much of your life. It’s horrible. It’s particularly horrible in L.A. We’re trying to dig a hole under L.A. This is to create the beginning of what will hopefully be a 3-D network of tunnels to alleviate congestion.”
The talk came the day after a tunnel-boring machine arrived at SpaceX to dig a hole that will be used for “research and experimental purposes,” said interim City Manager Arnie Shadbehr.
“This tunneling will be conducted by excavating a large bore pit almost 20 feet by 150 feet and 13.5-foot diameter,” Shadbehr wrote, in an email, adding that the tunnel itself will measure 500 feet in the SpaceX parking lot.
It’s not clear if Musk will go forward with earlier plans to build a pedestrian tunnel for employees beneath Crenshaw Boulevard to link SpaceX’s parking structure with its headquarters building.
“If they ever decide to undertake something beyond their private property, it is going to involve a whole slew of various initial and full-blown impact studies within various jurisdictions and geotechnical explorations to select the most feasible and cost-effective alignment,” Shadbehr said.
Tunneling through the clutter
But Musk said he’s going to bypass underground utilities and pipelines altogether by simply digging deeper tunnels.
According to a 3-D simulation of Musk’s vision that he shared in the interview, cars would get deep underground via an elevator.
“A couple things that are important in having a 3-D-tunnel network. First of all, you have to be able to integrate the entrance and exit seamlessly into the fabric of the city,” Musk said. “By having an elevator, sort of a car skate that’s on an elevator, you can integrate the entrance and exits to the network just by using two parking spaces.”
Once in the network, vehicles would sit atop skates that would ferry them along a track at 130 mph.
“You should be able to get from Westwood to LAX in five or six minutes,” he said.
Making digging cheaper
Still, avoiding underground conflicts is only a piece of the puzzle. Digging is costly and slow.
Musk has a plan to reduce the cost of tunneling, just as he reduced the cost of spaceflight. SpaceX rockets can deliver payloads into orbit at a third or fourth the cost charged by The Boeing Co.
His tunnel-making business, which he dubbed The Boring Co., won’t work unless he can make tunnels much more cheaply, he said.
As an example of the exorbitant costs of tunneling, Musk cited the $2 billion price tag of LA Metro’s Crenshaw/LAX Line extension connecting the Green Line in El Segundo to the Expo Line in South Los Angeles. It will open in 2019 but the tunneling finished earlier this month.
“The L.A. subway extension, a 2.5-mile extension, was just completed for $2 billion. This is not the highest utility subway in the world so, yeah, it’s quite difficult to dig tunnels normally,” Musk said. “I think we have to have at least a 10-fold improvement in the cost-per-mile of tunneling.”
To get there, he wants to reduce the diameter of single-lane traffic tunnels by more than half, to 12 feet.
The second upgrade would be to make it possible for tunnel-boring machines to work constantly. As it is, the machines only work about half the time they’re underground because workers have to stop digging to periodically reinforce tunnel walls, he said.
In addition to constant digging, Musk wants to amp up the power of his tunnel borer.
“These machines are far from being at their power or thermal limit,” he said. “So you can jack up the power to the machine substantially.”
What’s more, he said, “there’s no real limit to how many levels of tunnel you can have (underground). You can go much farther deeper than you can go up (in the air). This is a very important point.”
The case for tunnels
Tunneling engineers have criticized Musk’s tunneling ambitions as naive and ridiculous.
But, in his explanation, his plan isn’t only reasonable, it’s overdue.
“We’ve got a pet snail named Gary (at SpaceX). Currently, Gary is capable of going 14 times faster than a tunnel-boring machine,” Musk said. “So, we want to beat Gary. Victory is beating the snail.”
In planning mass-transit systems of the future, Musk says underground freeways sound a lot better to him than flying cars.
“If something’s flying over your head, and there are a whole bunch of flying cars going all over the place, that is not an anxiety-reducing situation,” he said. “You don’t think to yourself: ‘Well I feel better about today.’ You’re thinking, ‘Did they service their hubcaps or is it going to come off and guillotine me.’ ”
The Earth absorbs vibrations well, so deep tunneling will be completely unnoticed on the surface.
But tunneling is only a small part of Musk’s visions of the future.
He only spends “2 or 3 percent” of his time working on tunnels, he said. He’s busy revolutionizing space travel with SpaceX, and expanding his growing electric car and battery storage businesses.
“This is basically interns and people doing it part-time,” he said. “We bought some second-hand machinery. It’s kinda puttering along but it’s making good progress.”
In July, Tesla is set to release its long-awaited Model 3, an all-electric vehicle with autonomous driving capabilities starting at the comparatively low price of $35,000.
Then, in September, a heavy-duty, all-electric semi truck will debut to compete with Toyota’s hydrogen fuel-cell powered truck. Both emit no pollution, but it’s not yet clear which technology is more adaptable.
Musk is sure that electric power is the best bet for the energy of the future. His Tesla Gigafactory in Nevada is already mass producing lithium-ion batteries for cars and solar home and business energy storage. He has plans to add four more Gigafactories this year.
Meanwhile, he’s also working to build the largest-ever spacecraft, and clear the path to human colonization of Mars.
“It’s important to have a future that is inspiring and appealing. There have to be reasons that you get up in the morning and you want to live,” Musk said. “If the future doesn’t include being out there among the stars, and being a multiplanet species, I find that incredibly depressing.
“I’m not trying to be anyone’s savior. I’m just trying to think about the future and not be sad.”