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Elon Musk Unveils Boring Co. Los Angeles Test Tunnel

It’s not my Money(ball)! - Dodgers Edition - Ticket to Nowhere

Or “Elon Musk’s “Tunnel” to Dodger Stadium...where not a single shovel of dirt was moved.”

For those keeping score:

And now...Ticket to Nowhere.

I do my level best not to lie while writing here, regardless of what random commenters, or otherwise, say. The “It’s not my Money(ball)!” series was originally just an opportunity to expand a comment that I previously wrote that indirectly led to me getting a job with the site. And we have had a measure of fun, often at the owners’ expense pointing out the financial disrepair of the League. I have tried not to punch down at other fanbases, after all, you like what you like and that is generally as valid as anything else in this life.

But after thoroughly examining the misdeeds of the current Athletics management core as to the City of Oakland and preparing to examine the shenanigans of the Rays, I realized that there was a problem much closer to home that merited my attention: alternate methods of getting to Dodger Stadium, because, let’s face it - going to and from Dodger Stadium is, in a word, terrible. However, there have been ongoing efforts to try and make this commute...less terrible.

The Status Quo: A Free Bus from Union Station

The Dodger Express circa April 2013
Photos by Luis Inzunza and Anna Chen/Metro

Since 2010, fans who wisely skip the commute to and from Dodger Stadium can be served by a complimentary bus service that runs from Union Station to the ballpark (unless you are absurdly late to the ballpark, in which case, I’m just writing while judging your life decisions). I have taken this bus to and from the ballpark several times. Honestly, I’d rather take the bus and pay for parking at Union Station than traverse the sea of cars that is the Dodger Stadium parking lot after games. And for the most part, the bus line works as intended. I wish the bus dropped me off closer to the gates on the way in, but for a free bus, it does the job.

Apart from the year that wasn’t in 2020, this complementary service has been in place. Per Metro, more than 2.5 million people have used the service to access the stadium from 2010 to the start of the 2022 season. This figure does not indicate whether this number includes people who have gone to the stadium or those who have exited the stadium and whether those are the same people. So let’s do some back-of-the-envelope math. Let’s assume we have 2.5 million trips over 11 seasons (as there were no fans in 2020), that would be an average of 227,273 people per year. Over 81 games per season, we can calculate an average of about 2,806 people a game. This calculation is comparable to the ridership figures from Metro, which stated that the Express had a ridership of 241,000 fans in 2017 (including the playoffs), for an average of 2,975 riders per game.

This essay’s focus expanded the more I researched alternative routes to and from Dodger Stadium as I was originally focusing on a project involving, at least indirectly, Frank McCourt. But in order to discuss that project properly, I need to watch a literal two-hour Los Angeles County City Planning video. The main point to remember right now is that you have to recall that there were two unique infrastructure projects started around 2018 in order to alleviate the traffic hell that is getting to and from Dodger Stadium: a gondola proposed by interests related to Frank McCourt and a tunnel proposed by Elon Musk. This essay addresses the tunnel.

Elon Musk wanted to build a tunnel to Dodger Stadium in 2018?!?

Elon Musk’s The Boring Company Unveils Test Tunnel In California Photo by Robyn Beck-Pool/Getty Images

That’s right, you read that header correctly. Elon Musk had an arguably hare-brained scheme to build a tunnel to Dodger Stadium. Needless to say, it did not go according to plan, as it was supposed to be ready by the start of the 2020 season. On August 16, 2018, Elon Musk announced that his tunneling company, The Boring Company, had a proposal to build a 3.6-mile underground tunnel to run from Dodger Stadium and a Metro station, with the proposed routes presented below.

The Proposal for the Musk Tunnel
Courtesy of Ballpark Digest by way of The Boring Company

Per the proposal, the tunnel, when completed would have been limited to 1,400 riders a day, with a capacity for up to 2,800 passengers based on demand, which would have been comparable to the Dodgers Express. The plan was for the tunnel to be completed in time for the 2020 season, which obviously did not occur.

Transportation projects are hard, and in Los Angeles, that statement appears to be doubly true. An article from the middle of the year that was not illuminated the status of The Tunnel to Nowhere:

Bloomberg, Sarah McBridge, July 23, 2020:

After Boring Co. announced its plans in 2018, the Dugout Loop project at first moved quickly and on an ambitious time table: “The expectation right now is that we’ll have approvals early next year and get started building the tunnel, and hopefully have it opened by the end of 2019, in time for 2020 season,” Kain told CNBC in August that year. An initial public scoping meeting was held just days after Kain’s comments.

But not long after that, the attention of Boring Co. executives shifted to Las Vegas, where the company won a high-profile bid to build a “Loop” tunnel system under the Las Vegas Convention Center. That project is set to open by January, and could expand to two Vegas hotels.

Construction of the roughly four-mile Dugout Loop would take up to 14 months, the Boring Co. says on its web site, and would run from the southwest side of Dodger Stadium to a nearby LA Metro station. Fans would ride in autonomous electric vehicles based on Tesla Model X cars, but much larger—carrying up to 16 people per vehicle. The ride would take less than four minutes and cost $1, although the ticket price isn’t final.

Before wrapping this essay up, I did wonder “okay, so what happened to that Vegas tunnel, if the Dodger one fell off the radar?” Yeah...about that...

Good news - a tunnel was actually built! Bad news - I’ll let the tweet tell the tale:

After describing how the Vegas tunnel was supposed to turn a 20-minute walk into a one-minute ride, as shown in a ride that looks like being in an MRI, and describing how there was a demonstration to show self driving cars, which repeatedly ran over simulated children, Ms. Alissa Walker described the stakes of the bet Las Vegas had made on its tunnel., Alissa Walker, January 7, 2022:

Remember that in this particular transportation system of the future, Musk was contractually obligated to deliver a specific daily ridership to the convention center: 4,000 people per hour for 13 hours per day during major trade shows. (The contract also has penalties for failure to meet these numbers: $300,000 per trade show for a maximum of $4.5 million.) Part of this math was calculated when the system was to use autonomous 12-passenger vans, which have never materialized, and then by having four passengers in each autonomous SUV, with one person sitting in the non-driving driver’s seat. I think we can all agree, after seeing what is going on above ground, that it’s a good thing these vehicles are not autonomously zinging through stations crowded with people walking to their rides (and kids aren’t allowed to ride in these tunnels anyway, which is probably … also good). But it’s plain to any observer that there are not 4,000 people moving through this tunnel per hour, and recent data showed it’s more like 1,300 people per hour — about the capacity of standard (and, often, autonomous) people-movers all over Vegas — meaning the Boring Company has massively shortchanged its client. Nevertheless, in October, Musk’s Boring Company won unanimous approval from Clark County to extend his tunnels beneath the Strip, with contracts to build stations at several hotels. The hotels are footing the bills for the next phase, so at least the city’s money won’t continue to be buried in this underground money pit. But it’s certainly going to be interesting to see, after watching this real-world demonstration, who actually buys into this future and who ends up getting taken for a ride.

As of April 16, 2021, the Musk tunnel plans appeared to have collapsed, in a figurative sense. Before a single shovel of dirt was moved in Los Angeles, the Musk Dodger Stadium tunnel was scrapped:

Bloomberg, Sarah McBride, April 15, 2021:

Both projects [at Dodger Stadium and Washington D.C.] are currently mired in a regulatory no man’s land of environmental review and have not broken ground. Now, Boring Co. has removed all mention of either of them from its website—a suggestion that Musk is backing away from the projects.

“Big infrastructure projects tend to lurk in people’s minds for long after they have died a peaceful death,” said Dena Belzer, president of consultancy Strategic Economics and a lecturer in regional planning at the University of California, Berkeley. “I think you can declare these [projects in Los Angeles and Washington D.C.] dead.”

A tunnel that never happened...this scenario feels awfully familiar:

Okay, well - that detour was certainly fun; at least until you remember that Dodger Stadium Express still exists. Next time, we dive into the other transportation infrastructure project that caught my eye in the first place: the proposed gondola for Dodger Stadium. On August 24, 2018, Dodgers CFO Tucker Kain gave an interview on CNBC to discuss both the Musk tunnel and the McCourt gondola, which will be discussed in-depth in the next essay:

Next time, we shift gears and go from deep underground to a scenario where it is here today, gon-dola. See you then.

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