Chicago takes advantage of Elon Musk's boring company to build high-speed transit tunnels that would link Loop to O & # 39; Hare



Self-propelled 16-passenger vehicles would travel back and forth at speeds in excess of 100 mph in tunnels between the Loop and O & # 39; Hare International Airport under a proposed high-speed transit negotiated between the Mayor's City Council Rahm Emanuel and billionaire technology entrepreneur Elon Musk The Boring Co., city and company officials have confirmed.

The Emanuel administration has selected the Musk company from four competing offers to provide high-speed transportation between the center and the airport. Negotiations between the two sides will be conducted with the hope of reaching a final agreement to provide a long-sought alternative to the Chicago traffic jam and the slower "L" trains.

In choosing Boring, Emanuel and senior city officials rely on Musk's highly-touted but not-yet-proven tunnel technology on the more traditional high-speed train option that until recently had been conceived as the answer to accelerate the trip between the central business district of the city and one of the busiest airports in the world.

Emanuel Boring officials said it was too early to provide a timeline for the completion of the project or its estimated cost, but they said Boring would pay for the entire project. That would include the construction of a new station at O ​​& # 39; Hare and the completion of the super station erected in Block 37 under former Mayor Richard M. Daley, who like Emanuel pressed for high-speed rail access to O & # 39; # 39; Hare.

Musk and Emanuel are expected to formally announce the proposal on Thursday afternoon at that long inactive subway station.

According to the proposal, passengers could travel from the Loop to O & # 39; Hare in just 12 minutes at an estimated cost of $ 20 to $ 25 per trip. A final route for the high-speed tunnels is still subject to negotiations, and a Boring official and Deputy Mayor Robert Rivkin declined to identify where he could run.

Boring's preferred preliminary route, however, would follow Randolph Street west of block 37 and then run under Kennedy Expressway northwest before continuing north under Halsted Street and northwest under Milwaukee Avenue. Then, the tunnels would extend northwest under Elston Avenue, near Goose Island, then cross again under the Kennedy Expressway and head west to O'Hare, according to a source familiar with the plans who was not authorized to speak publicly. .

The Hare station is planned near the new global terminal that Emanuel announced as part of an $ 8.5 billion airport review.

READ MORE: Here is a look at the details of Emanuel's $ 8.5 billion plan to expand & # 39; Hare & # 39;

In total, Boring has estimated that the project will cost less than $ 1 billion, according to a source familiar with the company's proposal, but not authorized to speak publicly due to ongoing negotiations.

In exchange for paying to build the new transit system, Boring would keep revenues from the system's transit fees and any money generated from ads, brands and sales on the vehicle, said Rivkin and the company. The ownership of the twin tunnels has not been determined, but the Emanuel administration plans to seek a long-term lease for Musk's company, said a source familiar with the proposal.

Multiple regulatory, safety and environmental questions could also affect the construction of the project and timeline, Boring and city officials recognized.

For now, however, Emanuel is selling the idea as the latest bold "transformative" innovation in a city that found itself at the forefront of American railroads and became one of the first aviation systems.

"If you look at the history of Chicago … every time we've been an innovator in transportation, we've taken advantage of the future," Emanuel said in an interview with the Tribune on Wednesday. "I believe that discovering – when time is money – how to reduce the distance between O & # 39; Hare's economic and work engines and the city center positions Chicago as a global leader and a global city in the United States."

Beyond the great However, there are still many questions.

In California and Maryland, Boring has encountered normative obstacles and concerns of elected officials over its unproven technology.

Musk's company continues to excavate its first test tunnel in Hawthorne, Calif., And passenger vehicles, which the company calls "skids," have not yet been thoroughly tested for public use.

The economic viability of the Boring project is based on Musk's confidence that he can build tunnels at least 14 times faster than previous efforts, which a company official acknowledged that the company must still test.

And although the concept of a tram or autonomous vehicle is not new, the particular model that Boring imagined installed in a modified Tesla Model X car chassis still has to be built on a large scale.

Emanuel was unfazed by the uncertainty, noting to a large extent the success of Musk in the construction of electric power Tesla and the aerospace manufacturer SpaceX, the first private company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station, among others achievements.

"We're betting on a guy who does not like to fail, and his resources, there's a lot of Teslas on the road, he put SpaceX together, he's proven something," Emanuel said of Musk. "The risk, without financial risk, is to bet on a guy who has demonstrated in space, the car and now a tunnel, who can innovate and create something of the future." Given his record, we are taking his reputation and saying: & # 39 This is a guy in two other modes of transportation that has not failed. "That's what we're doing."

& # 39; Skates & # 39; with eight wheels

Musk, which according to Forbes has a net worth of $ 20 billion, founded Boring at the end of 2016 to "solve the problem of soul-destroying traffic".

The main solution of the entrepreneur is a concept called "Hyperloop", an underground traffic of "ultra high speed" system in which passengers travel through a vacuum tunnel system in self-driven electric cars with pressurized cabins at speeds of more than 600 mph.

However, the concept of Musk and Boring for Chicago is more basic and simply called "Loop". "

In the Loop system, 16-passenger vehicles would have vertical and horizontal wheels, and stingy officers emphasize that the vehicles are" confined "and that" they will not be a car in the car. "

"Guide wheels" will run along a nearly 18-mile track The four vertical wheels would be similar to traditional tires in a car that runs along a concrete shelf on the floor Four additional wheels on each side The vehicle would probably be made of steel with polyurethane coating and would help move the vehicle by running along the concrete sidewalks along the walls of the tunnel.

"It is not in any type of automatic steering," he said. the official. "It is a mechanical operation where the guide wheels turn the vehicle."

The "skates", as Musk and others call them, could reach maximum speeds of 150 mph in the sections Straight from the tunnels, while speeds would be reduced around the curves, according to Boring.

READ MORE: Hyperloop promises a 30-minute trip from Chicago to Cleveland, but multiple challenges ahead »

While the northwest tunnel route is preliminary and subject to final negotiations and studies In engineering, Boring officials said that eminent domain would not be used to seize land or the rights of any land underground.

Any public right-of-way that Boring will use will be underground and will not require the closure of any surface highway. Boring would buy or lease any land needed on the ground, the company official said.

The Chicago system is expected to handle nearly 2,000 passengers per direction per hour, with cars leaving every 30 seconds or two minutes, city officials said. How much a trip will cost is subject to final negotiations, but Boring has set a goal to charge between $ 20 and $ 25, or half the cost of a typical taxi or coach trip to O & # 39; Hare, a familiar source said. with the conversations. .

Key to Boring's efforts to disrupt the transportation industry is to dig smarter, faster and cheaper tunnels.

The Chicago tunnels would be 14 feet in diameter, or about half the size of typical tunnels, and so, they can dig faster and for less money, Boring officials say.

At a recent question and answer session in Los Angeles, Musk also said that the company's boring machines would have three times more power and would run on Tesla batteries without the expense of miles of high-voltage cables that other machines use. Musk also said that Boring would build the concrete shells of the tunnels while continuing to dig and that he was working with "first class" engineers to find ways to remove dirt faster.

"This is the only way we can think to address traffic problems in major cities," Musk said at the event, imagining a day on which hundreds of levels of underground tunnels could be built. "We think it's the only way it could work and it's worth trying."

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