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Westwood to LAX in 6 minutes? Elon Musk digs deep to improve LA traffic

A visualization of how Elon Musk's system of underground 3D tunnels might operate beneath Los Angeles.
The Boring Company / TED Talk
A visualization of how Elon Musk's system of underground 3D tunnels might operate beneath Los Angeles.

Getting from Westwood to LAX in six minutes? Elon Musk thinks it's possible — if we go underground.

The Tesla and SpaceX entrepreneur shared his vision for underground tunnels that would ferry Los Angeles drivers to their destinations.

"We're trying to dig a hole under L.A., and this is to create the beginning of what will hopefully be a 3D network of tunnels to alleviate congestion," Musk said at TED2017 in late April. "So right now, one of the most soul-destroying things is traffic. It affects people in every part of the world. It takes away so much of your life. It's horrible. It's particularly horrible in L.A."

His idea? 

You'd drive your car into an elevator, "sort of a car skate," Musk says. The elevator would go down, beneath the roadway and your car would be merged on an electric track. He debuted the first visualization of how the system might work.

"There's no speed limit here," Musk says, "so we're designing this to be able to operate at 200 kilometers an hour." (Approximately 130 miles per hour.)

The project might initially open as a toll road.

Musk prefers going low rather than high because he believes there's no limit to how many levels of tunnels could be built. "You can go much further deep than you can go up. The deepest mines are much deeper than the tallest buildings are tall, so you can alleviate any arbitrary level of urban congestion with a 3D tunnel network," Musk says.

That would require some major advances in tunnel design (like reducing the diameter of these tunnels) and improvements in boring machinery. He's already working on those challenges at The Boring Company. He has plans to begin test excavation in a Hawthorne parking lot located near SpaceX headquarters.

The project is a source of much fascination for Musk but he says it's merely a hobby, one that only takes up two to three percent of his time. Still, he thinks underground traffic tunnels are much more feasible than flying cars.

"I do rockets, so I like things that fly," he says. "But there is a challenge with flying cars in that they'll be quite noisy, the wind-force generated will be very high.... A whole bunch of flying cars going all over the place, that is not an anxiety-reducing situation."