Billionaire Elon Musk envisions a world where commuting in Los Angeles is as easy as pointing a self-driving car toward an elevator platform embedded in a city street, sinking into a tunnel and zipping seamlessly beneath the traffic at speeds of up to 150 mph.
So far, his company’s progress toward this goal has been a bumpier ride.
On Tuesday night, in a parking lot next to SpaceX, Musk’s Boring Co. unveiled its first tunnel — a 1.14-mile route that runs 20 to 40 feet beneath the streets of Hawthorne, through a neighborhood sandwiched between the 105 Freeway and Hawthorne Municipal Airport.
Musk had promised modified “but fully autonomous” vehicles at the unveiling, but the reality was more modest: a Tesla Model X that reached a top speed of 53 mph, manually driven by an employee who previously drove in the Indianapolis 500.
The trip through the tunnel took about two minutes, illuminated by the car’s headlights and a strip of blue neon lights tacked to the ceiling. The Model X rolled on two molded concrete shelves along the wall, which were so uneven in places that it felt like riding on a dirt road.
The car emerged from the tunnel on an elevator erected inside a round shaft lined with corrugated metal. The shaft, named O’Leary Station in memory of a longtime SpaceX employee who died, is at the site of a shuttered cabinetry store on Prairie Avenue.
“We kind of ran out of time,” Musk said, attributing the rough ride to problems with a paving machine. “The bumpiness will not be there down the road. It will be as smooth as glass. This is just a prototype. That’s why it's just a little rough around the edges.”
Building the 1.14-mile tunnel took about 18 months and cost about $10 million, Musk said. The figure does not include the costs of research, development or equipment, the company said, and it is not clear whether it includes the money spent on property acquisition or labor.
Still, the $10 million is orders of magnitude lower than a typical subway project, Musk said. Part of Boring Co.’s goal, he said, is to create a tunneling process that will be 15 times faster than the “next best” option.