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Elon Musk convenes first public presentation on his LA tunnels

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“This is the only thing we can think of to address chronic traffic issues in major cities”

About 300 people turned out to hear Elon Musk share plans to build tunnels under Los Angeles.
Matt Tinoco

Hundreds of LA residents and fans of Elon Musk packed into the Sepulveda Pass’ Leo Baeck Temple on Thursday night for the first public presentation hosted by the entrepreneur and his Hawthorne-based Boring Company.

They were there to sell residents on a “personalized mass transit” network that they claim will make “soul-crushing” traffic in Los Angeles something of the past. Musk’s vision is for Angelenos to blast across the Southland on high-speed sleds in a series of underground tubes bored hundreds of feet below the street.

“This is the only thing we can think of to address chronic traffic issues in major cities,” Musk said in the first few minutes of his talk. “In fact, the reason we were late is that we were stuck on the 405.”

Musk, whose presentation started about 20 minutes late, has already begun building a test tunnel in Hawthorne. He has also submitted plans to the city of Los Angeles to bore a second test tunnel beneath Sepulveda Boulevard on the Westside.

Eventually, he wants to build an entire network of tunnels across LA, stretching from the San Fernando Valley to Long Beach. Those plans have been met with heavy criticism from transportation planners.

Musk and Boring Company director Steve Davis.
Matt Tinoco

No new details on those plans were unveiled Thursday. During the one-hour program, Musk and Boring Company director Steve Davis flipped through a presentation and showed a few short video clips about the company’s vision to a playful audience.

There were 300 people in attendance, and about half donned apparel with the logo of a Musk-related company. The remainder was an eclectic mix of curious Westside residents intrigued by the idea of traffic mitigation and a smattering of elected official representatives, transit watchers, and news media.

Musk said he intends to make tunneling faster. He also talked about how the fundamental problem with roads and subways is, in his opinion, their limited capacity.

“One of the challenges of subways is that you have very large stations. It’s very difficult to weave large stations into the fabric of the city, and when a lot of people need to go to the station or come from the station, it creates a lot of congestion,” said Musk. “If you do hundreds of tunnels with small stations woven into the fabric of the city, you can could actually solve the transport problem.”

Musk also digressed into other topics. At one point, he mentioned how bricks made by his company from dirt extracted from bored tunnels “are rated for California seismic loads.”

Musk recently said his bricks can be used to build affordable housing, but masonry buildings have been mostly prohibited in California since 1933, and exceptions are not made based on so-called brick strength.

Matt Tinoco

Attendees were interested in the project’s potential to relieve Westside congestion. But several raised concerns about unanticipated impacts the tunneling system might have on LA, especially related to the potential loss of street space caused by the system’s would-be ubiquitous stations.

“I think mass transit sounds more feasible than the individual car thing. I think he’s being overly optimistic,” said Susan Hirsch of Brentwood. “Are you going to take all the parking places in LA to have that many entrances? I don’t think so.”

A couple present were aware that the project was already being fought in court.

A lawsuit filed by a pair of Brentwood community groups in May alleges the city of Los Angeles violated state environmental laws when it issued a permit for the Boring Company to dig a 2.7-mile “proof-of-concept” tunnel beneath Sepulveda Boulevard, roughly between Washington and Pico Boulevards. It also says the California Environmental Quality Act was violated when a Los Angeles City Council committee unanimously approved a motion to exempt the tunnel from CEQA analysis.

The complaint says tunneling in the Sepulveda right-of-way also has the potential to interfere with Metro’s future Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor project, which will likely be built in the same area over the next decade.

Because of that potential conflict, the suit argues that any Boring Company construction in the Sepulveda corridor should not be exempted from environmental analysis typically required by California state law.

“It doesn’t surprise me that there’s already a lawsuit, knowing how things go around here,” said Susan Davis, a Sawtelle resident. “But I am a little suspicious why they didn’t mention it even once tonight. That seems like important information the public should know about.”

After the session ended, Boring Company director Steve Davis demurred when asked about the suit.

“To be honest, that is not my expertise. I assume the lawyers will do their thing,” said Davis. “Our main thing is to do the right thing. So, whatever that is, that’s what we’ll do.”