The city council of Hawthorne, California, home to SpaceX headquarters, voted 4–1 last week to approve a two-mile-long test tunnel for Elon Musk’s Boring Company. There is currently a short tunnel on SpaceX property. The city council vote will allow it to be extended under city-owned property so that further testing of the tunnel-digging equipment can take place. The 44 foot deep tunnel will go beneath several city streets and will not pass underneath any private property.
“This is groundbreaking,” proclaimed Hawthorne mayor Alex Vargas at the conclusion of the City Council meeting without any hint of irony. “This is establishing a precedent and I think we all agree that we want to make sure that this goes off without a hitch.” People living in the area won’t notice anything out of the ordinary. That’s according to Brett Horton, the senior director of facilities and construction for SpaceX.
He told the city council and the members of the public in attendance they won’t see, hear, or feel any of the digging. “They won’t even know we’re there,” he said. When the test tunnel is finished, the city can request that The Boring Company fill it in with concrete slurry or dirt.
One person at the hearing was unconvinced and wanted to know how the citizens of the city could be sure that the collapsing soil problems that plagued the attempt to build an extension of the Los Angeles subway system to nearby North Hollywood more than 20 years ago would not be a problem for the new Boring Company tunnel.
Horton responded that the company thoroughly tests the soil and will provide the results to the city on a daily basis. If the ground moves so much as half an inch in any direction, work will stop until a solution is found. He invited citizens to make any concerns they may have known to the city, or to simply stop by SpaceX and talk to the people doing the work. “Our operations team is on site at the entrance shaft, so we’re easy to reach,” he said.
Looking at the map for the route of the proposed tunnel, one question might be how the company intends to make an enormous tunnel-boring machine make a 90 degree turn beneath the intersection of two city streets, but clearly Elon and his colleagues have given due consideration to such minor issues and have a solution in mind. The Boring Company still needs to acquire an encroachment permit from the state of California before it can dig the test tunnel.
Over the weekend, Elon Musk posted a photo on Instagram of a Tesla Model S inside the test tunnel at SpaceX headquarters. In actual practice, cars won’t operated independently inside the tunnels. They will ride on digitally controlled electric sleds that will seamlessly merge them into the flow of traffic and shunt them aside to slow-down lanes when they arrive at an exit near their destination. Still, it’s exciting to see this “proof of concept” picture of an actual car inside an actual tunnel. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Photo credit: City of Hawthorne
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