Our Tesla Model X pulled into a small parking lot behind an old kitchen cabinet store and came to a stop on a metal lift. Moments later, Elon Musk’s vision for how to beat traffic congestion began to take shape.
The lift slowly lowered our car into O’Leary Station, a circular hole Musk’s Boring Company had dug in the parking lot in Hawthorne, California. A handful of company employees were gathered around the edge, watching our descent.
The lift settled at the bottom of the pit. Looking through the windshield, the other three journalists and I saw what we’d come for — Musk’s first tunnel, a 1.14-mile route built to experiment with underground transportation technology.
Musk, the CEO of Tesla (TSLA) and SpaceX, had previously described his tunnel business as a hobby that started as a joke.
In 2016, a frustrated Musk said he planned to start digging tunnels to provide an alternative to Los Angeles’ congested highways. Why sit in traffic above ground when you could speed ahead below it?
To mark the opening of the tunnel, Musk and the Boring Company threw a private party in the parking lot Tuesday night. It included a knight yelling insults, s’mores lit with flamethrowers and a speech from Musk. Aside from its quirky name and unusual job openings like “vice president of digital dancing,” the Boring Company is attempting serious projects in Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington.
Musk’s ‘eureka moment’
Musk expressed confidence in the projects in a conversation with reporters Tuesday.
“For me it was a eureka moment,” he said of his first ride in the tunnel. “It was a epiphany, it’s going to damn well work.”
The initial tunnel cost about $10 million, not including the cost of the tunneling machine and research and development. Musk expects a 15-fold improvement in tunneling speed as the Boring Company improves its digging machines.
‘It’s hard to understand what’s real and what’s not’
Musk’s ambitious projects have left nearby residents unsure what to think. The developers of a condo building next door to the Washington site told CNN they’ve debated if they could advertise proximity to a future Boring Company station as a selling point. Ultimately, they decided to hold off formally promoting the station.
“It’s the kind of thing that feels so far fetched it’s hard to recognize it as an imminent reality,” said Brook Katzen, senior vice president of development at Urban Investment Partners. “We don’t want to sell homes based on a glimmer of hope.”
Musk presented an updated version of the Loop, the form of transportation he initially plans to use in the tunnels. The plan is to eventually shift some projects to Hyperloops, the high-speed capsule in a vacuum tube that Musk envisions whisking passengers from Washington to New York in 29 minutes.
For now, Musk is focused on the Loop in which autonomous electric vehicles, such as the Tesla Model 3 or the unreleased Model Y, would transport passengers. Private vehicles (not just Teslas) would also be allowed in Musk’s tunnels, provided they’re outfitted with deployable tracking wheels that rub against the walls to hold vehicles in place.
“This is not meant to be some walled garden or something that’s special just for Tesla,” Musk said.