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ELON MUSK HAS TUNNEL VISION

Say you’re flying into O’Hare Airport and want to get to downtown Chicago. What are your options? Currently, you have five options. You could take a CTA train for $5.00 or less and get downtown in forty-five minutes. You could take a taxi for around $40.00 and get there in twenty-five to ninety minutes. You could use the shuttle van services for over $25.00 and arrive downtown in twenty-five to ninety minutes. You could hail a rideshare such as Lyft or Uber for $35.00-$50.00 (surges to $140 or more) and get there in twenty-five to ninety minutes.

As early as the 1990’s, Richard J. Daley had envisioned a high-speed rail line between downtown Chicago and O’Hare Airport. In fact, according to a Chicago Tribune article published June 14. 2018, the city and CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) spent more than $250 million on the Block 37 “superstation,” a shopping center atop a station for the high-speed rail. However, “Daley ordered the work stopped in 2008, saying the technology was outdated and more than $100 million more was still needed for completion.”

In 2011, Mayor Rahm Emanuel resurrected the idea of a high-speed rail line from downtown Chicago to O’Hare and in 2016 hired outside engineers to help explore the possibility for the high-speed rail line.

On February 9, 2017, Mayor Rahm Emanuel held a press conference to provide an update on the state of Chicago’s infrastructure. He also endorsed the idea of a high-speed rail line from downtown Chicago to O’Hare. The rail line was expected to cost billions of dollars and would require major support from private investors. Emanuel announced that Bob Rivkin, who had previously served as general counsel for the CTA, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and Delta Air Lines, had been hired “to drum up support and find partners to make the new O’Hare express line a reality.”

Enter Elon Musk, the billionaire tech entrepreneur. On June 14, 2018, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that Elon Musk’s Boring Company had been selected from four competing bids to provide high-speed transportation between downtown Chicago and O’Hare Airport. Musk’s Boring Company would dig a fourteen-feet in diameter tunnel from downtown Chicago to O’Hare. Lined with interlocking concrete pieces, the tunnel would contain self-driving electric vehicles called “skates.” Each “skate” could transport sixteen passengers at speeds from 100-150 m.p.h. Under Musk’s proposal, it would take just twelve minutes for passengers to get from O’Hare to downtown Chicago at an estimated cost of $25.00.

The estimated cost of the project is almost $1 billion. Who is going to pay for this? Elon Musk says his company will pay for the entire project. “In exchange for paying to build the new transit system, Boring would keep the revenue from the system’s transit fees and any money generated by advertisements, branding, and in-vehicle sales,” Rivkin said.

Will Musk’s high-speed transit system ever get built? Critics point to numerous challenges such as environmental impacts, regulatory approvals, financing costs, and unforeseen complications. According to a Chicago Sun Times article “Mayoral challengers, academics raise caution flags about Musk’s O’Hare Express,” Joe Schwieterman, director of DePaul University’s Chaddick Institute, “gave the mayor and Musk high marks for dreaming big and aiming high. But he gave the project only a one-in-three chance of ever being built. And even if it does, he’s afraid Chicago taxpayers could get stuck with at least part of the tab.”

—By Karen Centowski


To see a video Elon Musk’s Boring Company To Build Express To O’Hare, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=24yqz0jZVaw.