FORT LAUDERDALE — Two underground tunnels built for whisking tourists from downtown Fort Lauderdale to the beach in Teslas might cost $100 million — but no one knows for sure.
To find out, Fort Lauderdale will need to pay Elon Musk’s Boring Company $375,000 to investigate the true cost before moving ahead with the ambitious job of design and building the underground tunnel system, currently dubbed the Las Olas Loop.
The city commission is expected to vote on the interim agreement Tuesday night and a final contract in the coming months.
The Boring Company would also operate and maintain the tunnels.
Critics say the whole idea is a colossal waste of money.
But Mayor Dean Trantalis remains a true believer in the tunnelssaying they will help make a dent in the ongoing gridlock gripping Fort Lauderdale’s downtown.
“This is the next step in moving forward with the project,” he said Monday. “We don’t know the exact cost. On Tuesday the commission will hopefully move forward with the interim agreement, which will allow the Boring Company and our staff to determine that.”
If all goes as planned, the tunnels will be up and running in a year or so, Trantalis said.
“People come up to me all the time saying they are so excited about the Boring Company tunnel,” he said. “But if the cost exceeds expectations, then we have to give it a second thought.”
Fort Lauderdale resident Randy King, a critical of the plan who sent commissioners an email last year urging them to “stop the insanity,” says he’s hoping they come to their senses and nix the whole idea.
“I wouldn’t want to be underground for two miles in a Tesla,” he said. “I think people are going to be afraid to use it. It’s just pouring money down the drain.”
King suggests the city find something more urgent to spend millions on.
“Fix our streets,” he said. “I’m driving down Nurmi Drive right now and there’s so many bumps and potholes you feel like you’re driving in a 1900 jalopy.”
Longtime resident Nancy Thomas was also proudly critical of the tunnel proposal, saying the public should have more of a say in whether the city moves forward with such a costly project.
“I think we need to take a breath before spending any more money,” Thomas said. “I can’t think of anybody in favor of this. We have so many other transportation needs. Why is a tunnel from downtown to the beach a priority?”
Over the weekend, Thomas sent an email to her commissioner with a simple request: “Please stop the train now.”
The commission, eager to find new ways of moving people through downtown, has so far not been willing to stop the train.
Under the current plan, the Loop would send passengers through a pair of 2.7-mile tunnels spanning several blocks under Las Olas Boulevard and leading all the way to the beach. Teslas would speed along at up to 70 mph, slowing down at bends.
Service would start with drivers but eventually switch to automated transit.
Underground tunnels usually cost around $1 billion a mile, but Musk’s team claims they can build them for $10 million a mile using special technology that’s faster and cheaper than traditional methods.
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New technology allows crews to excavate the hole, remove the dirt and install segments of the concrete superstructure simultaneously.
The Boring Company plans to spend part of the $375,000 preparing a geotechnical report and coming up with civil and architectural design drawings for the tunnels and stations.
As part of the work, the Boring Company will conduct inspections and testing of properties needed for the project, including geotechnical testing and boring, environmental studies and surveying.
Just how long will it take Musk’s team to conduct its due diligence?
“We are going to ask that question on Tuesday,” the mayor said.
If the tunnels are a go, there is one nagging question: How to pay for it. But the answer to that question is not likely to come quickly or easily.
Susannah Bryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Susannah_Bryan