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The Boring Co

That’s an awful lot of tunnels

I’d say the over/under for the number of these that actually gets built is 1, and I’d bet the under.

On Monday, May 30, Bloomberg reported that it had obtained documents that showed Elon Musk’s Boring Company had pitched eight plans for projects in Texas. The documents, which stretch back over a year, included plans for connecting I-35 and MoPaC; a tunnel between Tesla’s Giga Texas factory, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, and downtown; and multiple tunnels in Pflugerville, where the Boring Company is now headquartered.

But a newly obtained document outlines an August 2021 Boring Company pitch for an even more ambitious project: plans to connect Austin and San Antonio via a system of underground tunnels. As of now, it is unclear how far the proposal reached, or which segments of the plan are being actively pursued.

Chap Ambrose, a man who lives next door to the Boring Company test site in Bastrop County, received the document as part of a public information request via the City of Kyle and posted it to Reddit. In the two emails between Boring Company business development lead Brian Gettinger and a Kyle official whose name has been redacted, they discuss involving the suburb south of Austin in its larger plan.

The plan, as outlined by Gettinger, is three-fold:

  • The Boring Company would “deploy individual systems in San Antonio and Austin.”
  • A connection between the cities, “likely collaborating with TxDOT” would follow I-35
  • Different city utilities would create segments to connect to the San Antonio to Austin system as follows:
    • Kyle to Austin
    • New Braunfels to San Antonio
    • San Marcos to Kyle
    • New Braunfels to San Marcos

In April, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg expressed his displeasure over a proposed plan to construct a Tesla-exclusive tunnel connecting San Antonio International Airport and downtown.

“We have a lot of transportation issues that we want to solve here in Texas and in San Antonio, frankly. That doesn’t solve any of them,” Nirenberg said on Inside Texas Politics.

[…]

Ambrose has spoken in front of city officials in his hometown and in Kyle about the opacity with which he believes the Boring Company operates in Central Texas.

“Business as usual for TBC,” he tells MySA via text message. “Trying to pull strings in the background. I think they’d catch more fish with transparency.”

In a reply less than two hours later, the Kyle official asks for cost specs so that they can find a location and consider funding.

“We would love a connection into downtown Austin AND ABIA,” the official writes.

On May 3, Kyle City Council approved a professional services contract to build a railroad pedestrian underpass to connect to its Vybe trail network.

Good luck with that. You may recall this all started with a proposal to build a tunnel from the San Antonio Airport to downtown SA, which later on morphed into a possible San Antonio to Austin tunnel project. There’s a lot of skepticism about how this could possibly work, and so far all of the price tags I’ve seen for this seem suspiciously low. We’re in the Elon Musk Zone here, it doesn’t have to make sense. The full list of projects includes one in our backyard, a drainage tunnel for groundwater under SH 288, as well as the first mention of hyperloops I’ve seen in a couple of years. Good times. Tune in at some unspecified point in the future to see if any of this has moved from the conceptual phase to something else. The Current has more.

Is that San Antonio airport tunnel really going to happen?

Reality check:

In March, the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority unanimously approved a feasibility study for a proposal from billionaire Elon Musk’s Boring Co. to build subterranean “public transit” from the San Antonio International Airport to downtown.

At the meeting, RMA Board Member Michael Lynd Jr. and Bexar County Director of Public Works Renee Green affirmed that the Boring Co.’s proposal — a nine-mile underground tunnel that would transport passengers in Teslas from the airport to the Pearl and downtown — was the most feasible option among the bids it considered.

Questions have swirled about what problem Musk’s $247 million-plus overture would solve, whether it qualifies as public transit and whether transportation dollars would be better spent on better-proven, if less-flashy, solutions to San Antonio’s traffic woes.

As the Boring Co.’s $247 million bid undergoes a feasibility evaluation, it’s worth considering whether Musk’s latest pie-in-the-sky venture has any prospect of working. According to local experts across a variety of disciplines, the project is doomed from the start.

See here, here, and here for the background. You should read the rest, but I’ll summarize it as concerns about water and other environmental issues (more on that here), property rights, and the fact that the San Antonio transit agency VIA is already in the process of implementing an express bus service from the airport to downtown; this would happen before the Musk tunnel and would directly compete with it. I’m also deeply skeptical of the price tag, which just seems awfully low to me. But hey, we’ll see what that feasibility study says. Maybe we’re all wrong.

San Antonio airport tunnel approved for feasibility study

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.”

At this point, it’s hard to argue that the Elon Musk Memorial Tunnel is less viable than Lone Star Rail. It’s totally crazy-making, but here we are. May as well embrace it. The Current has more.

San Antonio airport tunnel update

This continues to boggle my mind.

A plan by Elon Musk’s Boring Company for a project that would connect the San Antonio airport to downtown via twin underground tunnels is among two proposals a local transportation agency is considering.

In a [recent] meeting, the board of the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (Alamo RMA) confirmed the staff’s recommendation of proposals from the Boring Company and from Bexar Automated Transport to advance to the interview stage.

Both companies will be invited at a later date to present a full proposal and answer questions before the board makes its final selection.

After feasibility studies are conducted, the project could move forward on a fast timeline.

In all, five companies submitted proposals in response to a request for qualifications and proposals issued by the Alamo RMA, an independent governmental entity created by the Bexar County Commissioners Court.

Last month, the authority’s staff ranked the proposals based on each company’s profile and financial capacity, experience and qualifications, the project description and financial feasibility.

Renee Green, director of public works and county engineer, outlined each of the proposals for the board.

The proposal by Austin-based Boring to build a tunnel 30 feet below ground scored highest among them, with 91.6 points. The system would use Tesla cars to ferry passengers the nine miles between the airport and downtown.

The company, which has built a similar tunnel loop in Las Vegas, estimated the “Alamo Loop” project would cost up to $300 million.

A proposal by Bexar Automated Transport, a company made up of several transportation entities, scored second with 80 points. Its plan calls for an autonomous bus using a combination of elevated and underground tracks — estimated to cost $330 million.

[…]

To take it to the next step, the authority released its request for proposals in October 2021 and evaluated those proposals late last year. The transportation model targets the existing rideshare market and should pay for itself.

It would not be taxpayer-funded, though bonds could be issued to finance the debt, Green said. “We don’t want to have to subsidize this — it needs to generate revenue for us to move forward.”

Green told the board that once a company is selected, “the real work starts.”

The seven-member board would next consider the legal and financial feasibility of the project, verify the cost estimates with an engineer’s report and evaluate the project’s impact on the environment. Board members said they would be asking both companies to present a plan to gather public input about the project as well.

When asked about the project timeline, Green told the San Antonio Report, “Obviously, fast.”

But the most important aspect of the system is that it has to be expandable, she said. “We don’t want this to be a one-off. We want it to be built on with ‘fingers’ extending out.”

See here for the background. This whole thing still feels like someone is putting me on, but if so they’re really committed to the bit. I remain deeply skeptical that this is financially viable, and I’m still not sure why it’s even needed, but at least if they’re going to go this route I’m glad to see that it’s viewed as something more than a one-route novelty. If this can get built as Austin to San Antonio rail remains in limbo, I don’t know what that says about us. Nonetheless, I will be very interested to see what happens. The Current has more.

Elon Musk’s underground adventure

Say what now?

When it surfaced two months ago, the notion of Teslas whizzing through underground tunnels between San Antonio International Airport and downtown seemed fanciful.

Now, there’s a sign the idea may have gained some traction.

The Boring Co., a tunneling firm backed by billionaire Elon Musk, has been talking to local leaders about building an underground transportation loop in San Antonio. Musk is the CEO of electric-vehicle maker Tesla, as well as the founder and head of SpaceX.

Under The Boring Co. proposal, a fleet of company-driven Teslas would use the below-ground circuit to shuttle visitors between the airport and downtown San Antonio, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions.

On Oct. 1, in what sources described as the first concrete step to explore the idea seriously, the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority formally invited contractors to submit plans for “a transportation project that can efficiently and economically transport people between the general vicinity of the San Antonio International Airport and the downtown area of San Antonio.”

Alamo RMA Chairman Michael Lynd Jr., a residential estate developer, said the authority issued the request for airport-to-downtown plans in “response to a proposal submitted to us by a company.” He declined to identify the firm. Sources told the Express-News it was The Boring Co.

Lynd said the authority now has opened the process to competing firms with ideas for a better, “economically viable” way to move travelers from the airport to the center city.

“First, give us an idea,” he said. “Next, give us the facts and the tangible data behind it.”

The deadline for proposals is Dec. 1.

Read the rest, because it doesn’t get any less bonkers. I have no idea how this could possibly be economically viable, but I’m not a spacefaring billionaire supergenius, so don’t pay me any mind. I will say that it’s a 15 minute drive from the San Antonio airport to downtown SA, so it’s not like the Uber/Lyft fares they’d be competing with are particularly expensive. But it would be cool, you have to admit that.