Elon Musk’s The Boring Co. has been tapped by Chicago to design, build, finance, operate and maintain a 12-minute downtown-to-O’Hare Airport express train service expected to open in 2022.
It’s the first fully contracted urban transportation plan for a Musk hobby company that grew out of his own frustration of sitting in California traffic. Musk, CEO of Tesla Inc.
and the founder of rocket company SpaceX, will make a formal announcement in Chicago Thursday.
A pair of tunnels from Chicago’s central Loop to the busy airport will use autonomous pod-like cars, or as Boring calls them, skates, that would depart as frequently as every 30 seconds and carry up to 16 passengers and their luggage, traveling at over 100 miles per hour.
Fares for what’s to be called the Chicago Express Loop are expected at no more than half of what a taxi or rideshare costs today — that works out to less than $25. Musk’s company is financing what insiders told Crain’s Chicago Business will be the $500 million to $1 billion cost of the project. City officials have said no taxpayer subsidy is required. Boring beat out one other finalist for the job.
Boring’s plan “aims to alleviate soul-destroying traffic by constructing safe, affordable, and environmentally-friendly public transportation systems,” the company said.
“Dallas and Atlanta and New York will look at this and be sorry they didn’t have it,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel told Crain’s. “It’s going to give the city a huge competitive leg up.”
Boring has developed what it says is faster drilling technology that allows it to create tunnels at least 90% below the cost of conventional methods. That advantage, it asserts, allows it to use one of the few available transit routes left in crowded big cities: underground. Automated train cars also reduce labor costs.
Officials in Los Angeles and Baltimore recently have signed off on initial projects that could lead to much bigger efforts, such as a vacuum tube “hyperloop” from Baltimore to Washington, D.C., and eventually New York. The project in L.A. has drawn some criticism from environmental groups there.
Chicago Deputy Mayor Robert Rivkin told Crain’s that some details, as well as questions such as whether the tunnels would convert to city ownership at some time, will be resolved in upcoming negotiations. He hopes to have a final contract deal by the end of the year.
Plans for the Chicago system, which will run in addition to the subway service that already connects downtown to the airport with stops along the way, materialize as the city works on an $8.5 billion expansion of O’Hare. The airport is the country’s third-busiest by passenger traffic.
The modernization of O’Hare, which will include dozens of new gates and rebuilding the international terminal, is expected to take eight years. It would be the largest renovation of O’Hare in its 73-year history.