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Airport Tunnel Project in Southern California Going Forward

The Boring Company will construct a four-mile tunnel to connect a rail station with Ontario International Airport in the Los Angeles region. The tunnel will accommodate zero-emission and possibly autonomous vehicles.

A project in Southern California to connect an airport with a rail station using a tunnel to accommodate autonomous vehicles is moving forward. 

The San Bernardino County Transportation Authority (SBCTA) will contract with The Boring Company, an Elon Musk-affiliated company, to construct a four-mile tunnel to serve a commuter rail station and Ontario International Airport with zero-emission — and possibly autonomous — vehicles to ferry passengers from one station to the other. 

“It’s exciting for the entire region that this board is working on providing options for our residents, for transit,” said Frank Navarro, mayor of the city of Colton, Calif., and president of the SBCTA Board, speaking at the organization’s Feb. 3 meeting. 

Ontario International Airport is located in Ontario, Calif., about 40 miles east of Los Angeles International Airport, and serves Riverside County, the region known as the Inland Empire. The project would connect the airport with a Metrolink station in Rancho Cucamonga. 

The Boring Company responded to a request for qualifications (RFQ) by the SBCTA for an infrastructure developer to deliver a tunnel. The board voted to move forward with the company for the four-year, $85 million project. The Boring Company will design, build and operate the tunnel, using zero-emission, rubber-tire vehicles “with the potential for autonomous technology,” said Tim Watkins, SBCTA's chief of legislative and public affairs. 

The Boring Company has built a test tunnel in Hawthorne, Calif., near Los Angeles International Airport, which is used for research and development for public transportation systems. The company is also involved in a tunnel project in Las Vegas, and has proposed others in the Washington, D.C. area and Los Angeles. 

“There’s really one company available to do such a thing, and they’ve proven themselves all over the U.S., and particularly in Las Vegas,” said Michael Beauchamp, a member of the SBCTA board.

“I would just encourage the staff to continue on the negotiation process, to work out the other details that may need to be dealt with, and that we continue pressing forward,” he added. 

Constructing a subterranean tube to accommodate vehicles will cost a fraction of the cost of a surface-level rail link connecting the airport to the train station, say officials. 

“In these times when public funding is constrained, that is critical to our ability to advance this important transit connection,” said Watkins. 

Today it is all but impossible for passengers arriving at Ontario Airport to easily access public transit for the trip into Los Angeles. The tunnel project will support a seamless connection to Metrolink which serves the Los Angeles region. 

“We see the transit potential for eastern Los Angeles County and the broader region that ONT [Ontario International Airport] and the Metrolink San Bernardino Metrolink Line serve,” said Watkins in an email, pointing out the San Bernardino line has 14 stations and 13 connecting transit operators.

The line is being extended another nine miles east to the city of Redlands. 

“As ONT continues to be one of the fastest-growing airports in the country, its catchment area of the surrounding four counties will only expand,” said Watkins. “SBCTA is committed to reducing congestion surrounding ONT and providing high quality multimodal options to those that use the airport.”

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.