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How underground tunnels could beat the trafficBack

We know about self-driving cars and flying cars but now US entrepreneur Elon Musk has outlined his vision for a tunnel network under Los Angeles to alleviate congestion.

The founder of Tesla and Space X, told the Ted (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference  that he was inspired to create a tunnel system to beat congestion because he found being stuck in traffic “soul-destroying”.

How would it work?

According to a new concept video, cars would drive on to a platform, essentially a lift, and the ground would open up to carry them below. They would be transported through a multi-layered tunnel system on electric skates at a speed of 124 mph before returning to ground level.

What are the challenges?

Permission and cost are two of the main stumbling blocks. Cities would need to approve networks for the tunnels and also the car tunnels requirements. Then there is the issue of cost. According to Musk, the estimated cost for an extension of a 2.5 mile LA subway will cost $2.5bn (£1.9bn).

He said that his vision was to have “no limits” to the amount of tunnels, but to find ways to cut the cost of boring and to speed up how quickly such tunnels could be created.

Musk said, he wants to develop boring machines that can both do the job of digging tunnels and reinforce them simultaneously.

He also said narrowing the tunnels could be one way to reduce costs.

Why not flying cars?

If it’s good enough for Uber, why is Musk not going down the flying cars route? He told the conference that while he supports flying in general, he thinks that certain things might turn out badly. He said: “If something is flying over your head…that is not an anxiety-reducing situation.”

When will it happen?

Musk has set up to oversee the project – The Boring Company. But at the moment it takes up  less than three per cent of his time, he said, and it is run by interns and part-timers. Right now it is not clear how long it would take to complete the project.

Susan Bear Beardslee, a senior analyst at ABI Research, said the project sounded like a “moonshot”.

“He has shown his ability to be a visionary, and I believe he can take tunnelling and apply the financial capital and technical expertise, but this is not a go-it-alone project.

“He is addressing the need to look at congestion – but it will have to be a public/private partnership,” she said.

“Musk is good at coming up with a very different way of looking at things, and this might work better somewhere where it can be purpose-built rather than retro-fitted.”

Meanwhile,  his semi-autonomous Tesla car fleet has been under scrutiny since a fatal crash in May 2016, but Musk remains ambitious for the firm.

He promised a “fully autonomous” journey across the US “by the end of the year”.

Posted by Beth Rose on 01/05/2017