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Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Enlists Boring Company for Tunnel Study

The controversial tunnel project proposal has taken another step toward reality with commissioners tapping Elon Musk’s Boring Company to study the feasibility of building two 2.7-mile-long underground tunnel routes.

(TNS) — The town with killer gridlock is one step closer to making a deal with The Boring Company to take traffic underground.

On Tuesday night, Fort Lauderdale commissioners said yes to kicking in $375,000 for a feasibility study that will help Elon Musk’s team of experts answer three key questions:

  • Can South Florida’s terrain safely accommodate a pair of 2.7-mile tunnels?
  • What is the best route for the so-called Las Olas Loop that would take passengers in Teslas from downtown to the beach and back?
  • And how much will it cost?

The plan, which might cost as much as $100 million or more, has been vilified by critics as ill-advised and far-fetched.

But on Tuesday, Mayor Dean Trantalis argued the commission will have a better idea of whether to move forward once they get answers to those three questions.

One resident wanted to know whether the tunnels would actually help solve the city’s traffic woes.

“We need to go in baby steps,” Trantalis answered. “And this is the first baby step.”

The same resident wanted to know when the city planned to hold a community charrette to let the public weigh in.

“The problem with doing charrettes is we don’t have enough basic information,” Trantalis said. “People ask a lot of questions. We don’t have the answers yet.”

No one from The Boring Company showed up at the meeting on Zoom or in person to take questions, but city officials say the feasibility work required will cost well over $375,000. Any costs over that would be picked up Musk’s company.

“These things are expensive to analyze,” Trantalis said. “I think they want skin in the game from the city. They want the city to show that we’re committed. And they are showing they are committed by subsidizing this effort going forward.”

Resident Michael Ray ridiculed the whole idea of paying Musk’s team anything at all.

“He’s the richest man in the world,” he told the commission. “He makes $1.4 million in one hour. Why should we spend money … when he’s going to make lots of dough out of it. The mayor says all these people are excited about it. Who are these people? Almost everyone I talk to thinks it’s ridiculous.”

Trantalis argued The Boring Company experts are the ones taking the risk, since costs might rise above $375,000 after they start analysis.

“I think they’re the ones taking the risk because we capped our expense at a certain amount,” Trantalis said. “It’s like taking a case on a contingency basis. You don’t know if you’re going to settle the case in two weeks or two years.”

Less than an hour after the commission vote, City Hall sent out a new release with this statement from the mayor: “The Las Olas Loop is an innovative, cutting-edge solution to help address the city’s long-term transportation needs and ease congestion. People headed to the beach on a holiday weekend or during a big event like the Boat Show will be able to get there quickly and hassle-free. We are thinking outside the box to build a city of the future.”

How did we get here?

It all started with a Tweet.

Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and SpaceX, got the attention of Trantalis in January 2021 when he posted a tweet saying road tunnels under Miami would solve traffic and be an “example to the world.”

Trantalis tweeted back: “Fort Lauderdale would love to be a part of this discussion. We have #tunnelvision in the #magicregion!”

The next month, Trantalis flew to Las Vegas to discuss the possibility of building tunnels in Fort Lauderdale. In March, a team from The Boring Company visited Fort Lauderdale to check out the terrain.

Three months later, Fort Lauderdale received an unsolicited proposal from Musk’s firm to design and build an underground, high-capacity transit system.

Not everyone on the dais approved the interim agreement Tuesday night.

Commissioner Robert McKinzie cast the lone dissenting vote. And Vice Mayor Ben Sorensen had stepped away from the dais and was not present for the vote.

But Commissioners Heather Moraitis and Steve Glassman joined the mayor in backing the plan.

Glassman listed all the other major destinations that could use a tunnel, including the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and busy Sunrise Boulevard.

“For me, this is not just about downtown to the beach tunnel,” he said. “I think we need to look at a much bigger picture. I have many, many reservations but I am willing to take this first step.”

©2022 South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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