‘Truly innovative’? Florida city greenlights Elon Musk's underground ‘loop’ tunnel project

City officials in Fort Lauderdale, Florida have accepted a proposal by Elon Musk's tunnel-building firm to bore an underground loop, which critics say has yet to be proven as a viable mass transit system.

Mayor Dean Trantalis announced the decision on Tuesday night, saying other firms still have 45 days to submit competing proposals before the deal with Musk's The Boring Co. is finalized. The ‘Las Olas Loop,’ as the proposed tunnel has been named, will connect downtown Fort Lauderdale to the city's beaches, in hopes of providing quicker access to and from the ocean.

“This could be a truly innovative way to reduce traffic congestion,” Trantalis claimed.

The tunnel project was taken up as an alternative to an elevated commuter rail over the New River, a tidal estuary between the beaches and central Fort Lauderdale. Project costs and other details, such as the tunnel's length, diameter and capacity, haven't been made public, inasmuch as the city commission remains open to competing proposals.

Musk founded his tunneling company in 2016, apparently inspired by his frustrations with traffic jams. “Traffic is driving me nuts,” he said on Twitter at the time. “Am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging. I'm actually going to do this.”

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The concept also could help sell more of Musk's Tesla electric vehicles, which would be used to ferry passengers through the neon-lit tunnel.

Besides a testing and R&D tunnel, The Boring Co. has since built only one small system of tunnels in Nevada, connecting the main Las Vegas Convention Center complex to a new exhibit hall. Instead of high-tech autonomous sleds carrying dozens of people as originally planned, the system was redesigned to move passengers inside ordinary, but potentially driverless, Tesla vehicles.

Musk also hopes to expand the Vegas system to include other major destinations in the city and eventually to connect it to Los Angeles. However, other similarly ambitious projects, such as a 35-mile tunnel from Washington to Baltimore and a transit loop in Chicago, have been scrapped in the past. Musk is also proposing a $30 million loop system in Miami.

Social media users questioned the wisdom of building such a system in Florida, especially given the state's low elevation and its many sinkholes. Others questioned how much traffic could be alleviated with a single-lane loop and five-passenger EVs.

“So people are gonna load all their beach stuff into Teslas and then bring it all back wet and full of sand – in Teslas,” systems analyst Lauren Weinstein tweeted.

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