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Chicago picks Elon Musk's Boring Company to dig tunnel from downtown to airport

'We're taking a bet on a guy who doesn't like to fail," said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
by Paul A. Eisenstein /
Image: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks at a press conference on Jan. 25, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois.Scott Olson / Getty Images file

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Elon Musk’s Boring Company has been chosen to build a high-speed tunnel link between downtown Chicago and O’Hare Airport that would ferry passengers in just 12 minutes. The current rail line takes nearly an hour to travel the 16 mile route — and vehicles can be caught in traffic delays that often add another hour.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is expected to announce details of the preliminary decision Thursday, with the city now set to begin negotiations to work out the details for the tunnel, which uses skateboard-like electric vehicles.

"This transformative project will help Chicago write the next chapter in our legacy of innovation and invention," Mayor Emanuel said in a statement confirming reports that first appeared in one of Chicago’s two daily newspapers.

Already running both an electric vehicle company and a rocket company, Musk first signaled his interest in digging tunnels with a December 2016 tweet in which he wrote, “Traffic is driving me nuts. Am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging…”

He detailed plans the following May during a TED Talk and has since laid out plans for several projects for what he named, partially in jest, The Boring Company. That includes a tunnel project connecting New York City and Washington, D.C., as well as one running from Baltimore to Washington.

Neither of those have gotten underway, but work has started on a test tunnel in Los Angeles. The city has also approved a “personalized mass transit” project for its crowded West Side — though that venture now is facing legal challenges from residents concerned about the process authorities used to exempt The Boring Company from environmental regulations.

Plans for the L.A. tunnel have changed since first announced; the project is now focused on giving pedestrians and bicycles a way to move across the city at high speed. The Chicago project, however, would provide transit for individual vehicles and for pedestrians.

They would ride on electrified vehicles looking something like a skateboard and borrowing some of the technology used for the vehicles built by Musk’s car company, Tesla. Each skateboard would be able to carry one vehicle or, if equipped for passengers, between eight to 16 riders in a climate-controlled cabin, according to The Boring Company.

“We’re taking a bet on a guy who doesn’t like to fail — and his resources. There are a bunch of Teslas on the road. He put SpaceX together. He’s proven something,” Chicago Mayor Emanuel said about the project, according to a report by the Chicago Tribune, which originally broke the story.

The Chicago system would operate seven days a week for up to 20 hours a day, with a skate departing from terminal points as often as every 30 seconds. Pricing has not been announced, though it is expected to come somewhere between the current $5 train fare and the $40 airport to downtown cab fare.

"We're really excited to work with the Mayor and the City to bring this new high-speed public transportation system to Chicago!" The Boring Company tweeted after the city confirmed the discussion had moved to the next phase.

Specific details will now have to be worked out between Chicago and The Boring Company after a number of alternative proposals were rejected. That would include the timetable for what would become perhaps the single-largest project the Windy City has approved in decades. But funding is expected to come from private sources, rather than the Chicago treasury.

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