CHICAGO (CBS) — The Emanuel administration has selected billionaire Elon Musk’s The Boring Company to design and build a high-speed underground transit system linking O’Hare International Airport to downtown.
Terms of the deal are still being negotiated, but Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office said the project would use Musk’s still experimental tunneling concept and so-called Hyperloop transportation technology to connect O’Hare to the long dormant Block 37 superstation started under Mayor Richard M. Daley.
The $250 million station beneath Block 37 was first envisioned as the hub of an express train system linking downtown to both O’Hare and Midway airports, but was abandoned in 2011 while only half-finished, after running well over budget. No tracks were ever laid in the station, and no new tunnels were started to connect downtown to the airports.
Dubbed The Chicago Express Loop, the project would include The Boring Company completing the Block 37 superstation, and digging twin tunnels to O’Hare.
“We think this is going to be transformative for Chicago on the global stage, and locally here; providing an incredible connection between our two engines of our economy – O’Hare Airport and our downtown business district,” Deputy Mayor Bob Rivkin said Thursday morning.
Autonomous electric vehicles known as skates would carry 8 to 16 people and their luggage on the 18-mile trip between O’Hare and Block 37 in about 12 minutes, reaching a top speed of about 150 mph. A trip would cost $20 to $25.
Musk has said he believes his Hyperloop concept could be the solution to traffic gridlock in Los Angeles, Chicago, and other major metropolitan areas.
The mayor’s office said the project would be funded entirely by Musk’s company, with no taxpayer funding. Musk’s company also would keep all revenue from ticket sales and advertising.
“Bringing Chicago’s economic engines closer together will keep the city on the cutting edge of progress, create thousands of good-paying jobs and strengthen our great city for future generations,” the mayor said in a written statement. “This transformative project will help Chicago write the next chapter in our legacy of innovation and invention.”
Musk has claimed The Boring Co. can drastically cut the cost and time of drilling tunnels. His Hyperloop technology also has not yet been thoroughly tested.
However, the mayor has said it’s worth betting on Musk’s technology, given no financial risk to the city, and his track record of success with Tesla electric vehicles and SpaceX rockets.
Emanuel was expected to formally announce the agreement with Musk on Thursday. The agreement itself will not be presented to the City Council for approval until after negotiations on the design of the project have been completed.
The project also would face significant safety and environmental hurdles, especially given the untested nature of Musk’s technology.
According to published reports, The Boring Co. has estimated the project would cost less than $1 billion.