This crazy idea keeps finding a way to move forward.
A plan by Elon Musk’s Boring Company to build a tunnel between San Antonio’s airport and downtown was selected Wednesday by the local regional mobility authority for a feasibility study.
Board members serving the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (RMA), an agency tasked with improving transportation in Bexar County chose Boring over a bid from a local consortium, SAK/Bexar Automated Transport, to enter into a development agreement to study the feasibility of the project.
County staff used a scoring system with eight criteria to evaluate the two bids. The estimated project cost and potential revenue were at the top of the scoring matrix.
As proposed by Boring, the rideshare system would use Tesla’s electric-powered cars traveling in a tunnel 30 feet below ground to ferry passengers the 9 miles between the airport and downtown. The total estimated cost is between $247 million and $289 million.
Boring’s bid includes an option for the company to fully finance phase one of the system, a tunnel between the airport and the Pearl to start, at a cost of $27 million to $45 million.
Boring estimated revenues to the RMA of $25 million a year.
“What we don’t know is whether it’s financially viable at this point because, at the end of the day, the reason we’re doing this is to generate a revenue stream for the RMA, so that we can build even more infrastructure projects,” Michael Lynd, the RMA board’s presiding officer who recently was reappointed by Gov. Greg Abbott.
To pay for the tunnel project, the RMA would issue revenue bonds that would be backed solely by the project’s revenue, Lynd said. That could come from ride fares and advertising throughout the system.
Entering into the development agreement is the first step toward determining where and how the tunnel system would be built and whether it would pay for itself.
No timeline has been set for the process to determine the project’s feasibility. The RMA will hire an investment advisor to study the project and determine more precise revenue streams, which will be needed in order to sell bonds that would finance the project.
“This is not your only bite at the apple as we go forward with this,” said Renee Green, director of public works and county engineer. “We’ll be coming back obviously to the board over a number of different things.”
The board’s unanimous approval of Boring’s bid gives the RMA the green light to pursue answers to questions about the system Boring proposed and its viability. It’s not an OK to build the system.
“I don’t even think we’re biting at the apple, we’re pointing at the apple,” said board member John Agather.
“This is approval to take the next step to enter into conversations and discussions about where we go from here — whether this is financially viable, et cetera,” Lynd said. “There’s still a lot of vetting to happen and locating of the lines.”
See here and here for the background. I’ve expressed my incredulity before, so I’ll spare you the repeat. At this point, I’d very much like to see what that feasibility study says. Maybe this really can work! I mean, I feel like a fool even expressing that as a hypothetical, but what do I know? Bring it on, prove me wrong, turn me into a cheerleader. Worse things have happened to me.
One more thing:
Lynd called the project a “proof of concept” that could determine whether the tunnel system is expanded to connect San Antonio to other cities.
“I’m sure there is ambition to connect Austin and San Antonio,” he said. “Everybody in San Antonio I think would love to see that happen. But something like that would be in the future.”