Is Elon Musk seriously going to build a network of tunnels?

When it comes to geniuses, it can sometimes be difficult to tell when they’re being serious and when they’re just goofing around, as is the case with Elon Musk and his apparent plans to launch a company to dig tunnels so that he (and others, presumably) and avoid traffic.

As The Verge explained, the story started last month when Musk, the billionaire behind Paypal, Tesla Motors, and SpaceX, sent out a number of tweets complaining about traffic and suggesting that he was going to take matters into his own hands by starting a tunnel-digging company.

This proposed business, which he dubbed “The Boring Company,” would apparently dig a series of tunnels underneath Los Angeles (and most likely, elsewhere, eventually) to alleviate some of the automotive traffic on the roads. It sounds like a joke, but Musk insists he’s 100% serious, and according to the Daily Mail, work on the underground passages could start next month.

“Exciting progress on the tunnel front. Plan to start digging in a month or so,” Musk tweeted on Wednesday. When asked by other users if he was serious, he answered simply “yup.” He also claimed that the first tunnel would start “across from my desk at SpaceX. Crenshaw and the 105 Freeway, which is 5 mins from LAX.”

“Tunnels generally have two ends, but Musk offered only one, heightening the intrigue,” Melissa Etehad of the Los Angeles Times noted. While the whole concept seems like it might just be a big joke, Etehad added, “Considering Musk’s ability to turn science fiction into reality… it’s tough to know whether this is a serious proposal or a quip from a tech world luminary.”

Could Musk just be joking?

As Etehad pointed out, Musk has already dabbled in the improbably, having successfully landed a rocket in the upright position and developing the concept for the high-speed Hyperloop system. Yet, as The Verge noted, in the same Twitter threat where his discusses his tunnel idea, he joked that the “neural lace” needed for our conversion to cyborgs would come “next month.”

Assuming for a moment that Musk is being completely serious, what exactly would the Boring Company do? The Times suggests that he could be envisioning a subterranean superhighway of sorts, offering an alternative method of travel that could alleviate gridlock. However, building a system like this would be a “bureaucratic nightmare,” Etehad said, as Musk would have to obtain approval from multiple local agencies while avoiding conflicts with existing infrastructure.

Could the tunnel system and the Hyperloop project theoretically be linked, with the low-friction tubes used by the high-speed pods dipping below the ground at least part of the time? It certainly is not out of the realm of possibility. Whatever the project might be, if Musk is serious about it, he has not yet taken the first steps, as the Times noted that he had not yet applied for a permit to build tunnels with the Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering, officials at the agency confirmed.

Despite Musk concluding his tweets by stating that he was “actually going to do this,” the jury remains out as to whether the Boring Company is a real idea or merely a sophisticated gag on the Internet (and hapless tech reporters everywhere). “But,” as Etehad pointed out, “if Los Angeles’ transportation future lies beneath its streets, Musk would be the one to pull it off.”


Image credit: Asa Mathat