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Musk’s DC-Baltimore loop tunnel clears regulatory hurdle

Musk’s demonstration loop tunnel. Photo Credit: The Boring Company

The Trump Administration has released a draft environmental assessment for a high-speed tunnel developed by entrepreneur Elon Musk to move autonomous electric vehicles (AEVs) between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland.

The assessment, made public by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) on April 17, is considered an “early milestone” in the environmental review and permitting process for the project, according to DOT. “Final governmental approvals will depend on the outcome of the review and comment process and any subsequent modifications,” the department noted. The date for the 45-day public comment period has not yet been set.

Several state and federal agencies, including the Federal Highway Administration, National Park Service and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will weigh in on the project, with safety issues and ultimate design details addressed in future studies.

The project is to be funded entirely by Musk’s The Boring Company, which was recently featured – along with FreightWaves – in the Breakout List of high potential growth startups. It requires building underground a set of 35-mile parallel twin tunnels, one in each direction, that would transport passengers in zero-emission AEVs at speeds of up to 150 mph. The 15-minute travel time compares with travel times of between 40 and 100 minutes or longer, and “has the potential to contribute to a reduction in the health risks associated with long commute times,” according to the 400-page assessment.

Two loop stations, one in Washington and one in Baltimore, would connect the system, with each station equipped with elevators or ramps that would lower vehicles into the main tunnel. Extra vehicles would be stored above or below ground near station locations or in maintenance terminals, according to the proposal. Passengers would board the AEVs at surface level or by riding an escalator to enter an AEV already underground.

Using advanced tunneling technology, The Boring Company estimated the project would take from 15 months to just under two years, according to the proposal. No cost estimate was provided. A 1.14-mile test tunnel built by Musk in Los Angeles County using an all-electric tunnel boring machine cost approximately $10 million.

The assessment points out that the tunnel could be upgraded to accommodate potential future “hyperloop” technology, which makes use of magnetic levitation to move passengers or freight at speeds of up to 700 mph.

Last year international port operator DP World and Virgin Hyperloop One announced plans to launch a hyperloop for cargo which, if successful, could revolutionize both the speed and cost of commerce.

Musk, meanwhile, who is also co-founder of Tesla [NASDAQ: TSLA] and founder of SpaceX, has been in hot water with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission over the last year for manipulating Tesla’s stock price.

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John Gallagher, Washington Correspondent

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.

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