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Elon Musk wants to dig a tunnel to ease L.A. traffic. We have a lot of questions

Elon Musk launched Zip2 Corp., a supplier of software to create local Internet media and electronic-commerce sites. (Jan. 26, 2017)

Elon Musk is apparently turning his focus from the heavens to the Earth, proposing on Twitter that he plans to dig a tunnel that could reduce Los Angeles traffic. 

The often outspoken Chief Executive of SpaceX and Tesla Motors Inc. last month told his 6 million Twitter followers: “Traffic is driving me nuts. Am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging....” He dubbed the project “The Boring Company” and added “I am actually going to do this.” Early Wednesday, he backed that up, tweeting that he had made “exciting progress on the tunnel front” and intends to “start digging in a month or so.” 

Considering Musk's ability to turn science fiction into reality — he has, after all, landed a rocket upright and made electric cars cool — it's tough to know whether this is a serious proposal or a quip from a tech world luminary who has previously suggested that reality is not real.

That's not the only question left unanswered.

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When asked the location of the tunnel, Musk tweeted that it will be "Starting across from my desk at SpaceX. Crenshaw and the 105 Freeway, which is 5 mins from LAX." Tunnels generally have two ends, but Musk offered only one, heightening the intrigue.

Could the tunnel be a subterranean super highway? Such a proposal would certainly match Musk's history of grandiose projects — and later Wednesday he reiterated his goal of traffic mitigation to tech publication the Verge, stating that "without tunnels, we will all be in traffic hell forever." But building a massive tunnel in the Southland could be harder than rocket science considering the bureaucratic nightmare Musk would face gaining approval from multiple municipalities, not to mention the existing infrastructure he would need to avoid and the stupendous cost (the first phase of New York City's newly opened Second Avenue subway cost $4.5 billion for just two miles of track and three stations).

Perhaps he is alluding to an underground test track for hyperloop technology — low-friction tubes through which passengers or cargo can be shot in pods? Musk popularized the idea, but so far let other entrepreneurs run with it.

What if it were just a short tunnel, perhaps adding egress to SpaceX employee parking? Practical, but maybe not ambitious enough for a man set on sending humans to Mars.

For its part, SpaceX declined to comment.

One thing is certain: Musk hasn't yet applied for permits with the Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering. "We are not aware of any permit applications for a tunnel beneath the Public Right of Way. Any such permit application for a tunnel beneath the Public Right of Way would require City Council approval," agency spokeswoman Mary Nemick said.

Perhaps Musk intends to dig only below property leased by SpaceX, known formally as Space Exploration Technologies Corp. The Hawthorne facility is owned by Chambers Street Properties, which bought it in 2014 for $46 million. Chambers Street Properties did not respond to a request for comment.

But if Los Angeles' transportation future lies beneath its streets, Musk would be the one to pull it off. He has eccentric ideas, and he often executes them.

And considering President Trump's desire to ramp up American infrastructure projects, a costly tunnel dig may sound a little less far-fetched. Musk has frequently sought government funding for his ventures and is already in close contact with Trump, having met him this week in the White House. On Tuesday night, Musk tweeted favorably about Trump's secretary of State nominee, former Exxon Chief Executive Rex Tillerson.

Hours later, Musk changed the subject to digging on Twitter, where his bio lists "Tunnels" alongside the names of the companies he runs.

Follow me on Twitter @melissaetehad

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