After finding himself stuck in a massive traffic jam in December 2016, billionaire Elon Musk said he wanted to fix traffic congestion by digging a tunnel network below the city of Los Angeles. Whether or not the founder of SpaceX and PayPal is going to follow through with this plan is up for debate, but he is well known to bring ideas to life. Thus far, Musk has posted numerous tweets about his plan to dig a tunnel to his LA offices. Most recently he tweeted an image of an actual tunnel boring machine (TBM) giving little idea to his followers if it is his machine pictured or not.
3. How Much We Know
On December 17th, 2016, Elon Musk tweeted his plans to start a tunnel boring company to help relieve some of the congestion in Los Angeles. Not long after he came up with a name, The Boring Company, and its slogan, "Boring; it’s what we do." A month later, he revealed his intention to extend the tunnel from his SpaceX offices, all the way to the Interstate 105 freeway, five minutes from LAX airport. Just five days after his tweet, excavators began digging a trench 30 feet wide, 50 long and 15 deep at his office headquarters in Hawthrone, Los Angeles. His last tweet about the project was on February 5th, 2017 when he posted an image of the back of a fully lit-up TBM with its excavating conveyor clearly seen.
2. What This Plan is Actually About
Musk's newest concept to solve traffic congestion comes in the form of a 3D tunnel network that will spawn ten, twenty or thirty layers below the Earth's surface. He claims that it will essentially be a 3D building that goes upwards, while the tunnel network would go ideally downwards. However, if he intends to make this concept into a reality, he has to hurdle a lot of obstacles. For instance, the ground beneath any city is weakly mapped and would take a lot of time to dig, as exactly what lies beneath the Earth's surface is still unknown. Furthermore, he must face many environmental laws and deal with concerned neighbors along the way. Currently, what Elon Musk does have on his side is the rapid advancement of tunnel boring technology, which has made equipment much cheaper to buy over the last couple of years.
1. How Boring Machines Work
A tunnel boring machine (TBM), or a 'mole,' is a large cylindrical machine used to excavate tunnels. They have the ability to bore through anything from ordinary soil to a variety of strata and solid rock. A mole consists of three main parts: the cutterhead, bracing system, and an excavating conveyor. It works by forcing the cutterhead (or the front) onto the face of the tunnel while exerting adamant pressure. It uses its interspersed disks to loosen the surface materials into ’chips’ which fall on the conveyor and travel outside the mining area. These machines are used mostly to dig long tunnels for roads or railway lines, such as the Channel Tunnel or the Sydney Metro Northwest. The most state of the art technology is called plasma deep drilling, which could substitute the rotational contact TBMs and make boring even more affordable in the future.