San Jose, Calif., Talks Airport Tunnel with Boring Company

Mayor Sam Liccardo announced that he has been in discussions with the Elon Musk company about the possibility of an building an airport-to-transit station tunnel.

by Emily DeRuy, The Mercury News / February 6, 2019
(Shutterstock)

(TNS) — Imagine visitors flying into San Jose descending from the airport into an underground tunnel, boarding a driverless car or some other contraption and zooming south a couple of miles to Diridon Station, the city’s main transit hub.

Far-fetched, right? Maybe not.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said Tuesday he has been in talks with Elon Musk’s Boring Company about the possibility of creating this kind of underground link between Diridon Station and Mineta San Jose International Airport.

The announcement could bring welcome news for tourists, business workers and residents alike, who are often left to hail a cab or ride-share service or wait for a bus. Meanwhile, the Bay Area’s other major airports — in Oakland and San Francisco — are connected to BART.

For Liccardo, the possibility represents a chance for the station “to grow with the city,” the mayor told reporters at City Hall.

In the coming years, Google is expected to build a massive campus near Diridon, bringing thousands more people, jobs and homes to the area. And the station itself is expected to undergo an overhaul of its own, with BART eventually set to extend downtown and to the station. A half decade ago, the estimated cost for building a traditional rail link between the airport and station came in around $800 million. A tunnel project, Liccardo said, could potentially cost a fraction of that figure.

“It’s not that cost effective,” Liccardo said of a traditional rail link. “We’ve been looking at alternatives.”

But not everyone is thrilled with the idea of San Jose turning to a company run by Musk, who has been accused of labor violations and opposing unions.

“There’s a lot of important decisions the city needs to make about Diridon Station and infrastructure and investments, and it’s really important that when we look at construction of our public works and operation of our public spaces that we’re working with employers that respect employees,” said Jeffrey Buchanan, with the worker-advocacy group Working Partnerships USA.

Liccardo said any project would be subject to San Jose’s prevailing wage rules and that the city wasn’t locked into working with Boring.

“This is going to be open to everybody,” the mayor said. “What we’ve been exploring is the technology.”

While no tunnel is imminent, Liccardo said he hopes to see what’s known as a Request for Information, or RFI, go out in the next couple of months to companies such as Boring that might be able to build such a transit system.

“For two consecutive years, the (airport) has been the fastest-growing airport in the United States,” Liccardo wrote in a new memo to the rest of the City Council. “City and regional leaders have long sought a means of connecting the airport to the rest of our emerging transit system.”

Musk’s company is now testing out an underground tunnel in Southern California. San Jose, Liccardo said, should explore a public-private partnership with Boring or another company to help connect airport passengers to downtown and vice versa.

When voters approved Measure A in 2000, Liccardo said, a “people mover” connecting the airport terminals to Caltrain, VTA Light Rail and BART, all of which will flow through Diridon, was among the most popular project proposals.

And Liccardo wants the city to think “big,” he said.

“Nobody wants to make this more complex or difficult,” he wrote, “but if we’re planning the region’s Grand Central Station for the next century, we shouldn’t do so wearing blinders to the future.”

Another regional transportation measure is likely to be on the ballot in the next six years, and the mayor wants city leaders to begin to think about how an airport connection might look ahead of that. Liccardo also envisions the airport becoming a “car port” in the future for Sharks fans and others attending events downtown, who could then take public transit close to Arena Green and the heart of the city.

“We want to be sure that we’re ready to go,” Liccardo said.

In the same memo, Liccardo also said he wants the city to study ways to connect people to De Anza College, Valley Fair, the Apple headquarters and other places along the West San Carlos-Stevens Creek corridor, as well as the possibility of a transit line along Monterey Road.

Liccardo acknowledges that funding for and actual construction of such projects is unlikely to begin anytime soon but said he wants to create a space where new transit concepts can flourish, particularly when it comes to moving people from the airport to downtown.

“Certainly our city isn’t going to get any less crowded, and God’s not creating anymore land,” Liccardo said, “and so it is likely that if there’s going to be a viable connection, it’s going to be underground.”

©2019 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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