If Elon Musk’s Boring Company can somehow bring down the costs of digging tunnels, that would be fantastic. However, I am skeptical (emphasis is mine):
On Tuesday, Musk put the total price tag for the finished segment at about $10 million, including the cost of excavation, internal infrastructure, lighting, ventilation, safety systems, communications and a track.
By comparison, he said, digging a mile of tunnel by “traditional” engineering methods costs up to $1 billion and takes three to six months to complete. Musk boasted of several cost-cutting innovations, including higher-power boring machines, digging narrower tunnels, speeding up dirt removal, and simultaneous excavation and reinforcement.
However, the process he describes is how modern tunnel boring machines work. And he rented his Canadian-built boring machine from a Wisconsin tunneling company. He’s using the Wisconsin company, Super Excavators, as consultants.
Is Musk just selling a wish and a dream here? I really hope not. I share his dream of solving traffic problems with underground mass-transit and personal-transit systems. We need more tunnels to route traffic away from (or at least beneath) city centers, and to open additional arteries into cities like New York City that are largely surrounded by, or bordered by, water.
I lived through all the cost overruns in The Big Dig in Boston. There were major deficiencies in planning, lots of cutting corners in terms of materials, design, and engineering that came back to bite them, and simple graft and stupidity at play. I am not sure that The Boring Company can really put a huge dent into all those things. A lot of them are not technical problems that engineers can solve.
The Big Dig was a huge mess that was on our minds in Boston for years. The end result of that mess of a project, though, was a much nicer and more cohesive downtown Boston. This came about mostly by reclaiming land that had been used for highway overpasses, not because traffic and commute times were substantially reduced.
I think that if Elon Musk and his Boring Company could somehow decrease the costs of building tunnels, it would be far more important than building a new, sci-fi method of transportation. I just don’t think that he is actually doing it, even though he is telling everyone he is.