If you were looking for a project that would create the smallest stir ever, you would probably call in a place called The Boring Company to manage it. Well, you would unless that company happened to be privately owned by Elon Musk and was attempting to open a huge can of worms underneath Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
On the surface, The Boring project’s goal seems simple enough: dig a two-mile long tunnel that connects downtown Fort Lauderdale to the beach. Another project nearby, designed to divert traffic from Miami surface streets to alleviate crowded roadways, seems similarly deceptively simple. But that’s hardly where this Boring story ends.
A similar project in Las Vegas is underway
Before considering the implications of the Boring projects in Florida, it’s important to recognize that Musk’s company has managed to successfully dig and test a similar project in Las Vegas. The project there is a 1.7 mile long loop that runs beneath the massive Las Vegas Convention Center, with three stops, slated to open fully this summer.
These tunnels, built deep beneath the desert, are closed tracks for Tesla’s (NASDAQ: TSLA) electric vehicles. Eventually, Musk claims, the human-controlled cars will be replaced with autonomous vehicles, but for now, the manual version will have to do. Sold to Vegas as a shuttle system capable of moving 4,400 passengers per hour, the first tunnel of this type may only be capable of moving 1,200 people per hour due to bottlenecks created by fire regulations.
Las Vegas versus Florida: tunneling into the bigger issues
Although the loop in Las Vegas is functional (even if it’s not capable of performing anywhere close to what was promised), it’s a very different project from the projects Musk is attempting to sell in Florida. For one, water tables and other tunnel-dampening issues are far less significant out in the desert than they are on the coast of Florida.
In an interview with Curbed, Vancouver-based field geophysicist and disaster researcher Mika McKinnon explained the complications involved in building beneath Fort Lauderdale. Although it’s not an impossible task, it’s riddled with boring complications, including the fact that the bedrock below much of Florida is primarily limestone.
"It’s the sinkhole capital of the United States, let’s start from there," McKinnon explained. "If you want to have a tunnel [under these conditions], you need to pump the water out of the tunnel as you go. And when you hit a cave or you puncture a cavity, it changes the pressure. It’s like popping your car into neutral while you’re on the highway."
"I’d be asking them what their legal liability plan is," McKinnon continued. "Because part of the issue with the changing of the water table is that it won’t be a direct cause and effect -- 30 blocks away is what is going to sink. This is not a feasible project without sinkholes, so what will they do when they get sued?"
These 'boring' projects are risky until proven otherwise
Although many are quick to declare Musk a genius who is far ahead of his time, he’s had many projects flop for lack of real-world preparation and others (including the Las Vegas Loop project) that promised far more than they could deliver. For Musk enthusiasts, The Boring Company is yet another feather in Musk’s futuristic cap, but the feasibility of the projects he’s proposing seem to be in question.
The main goal of these tunnels is to help reduce strain on existing roadways as well as improve access for tourists to popular destinations in southeast Florida. Can they do that? Possibly. But the question really has to be: at what cost?
Although Musk has projected that the Miami tunnel could be completed for just $30 million, in under six months, this is a very different sort of project than the Las Vegas Loop (which was, in all fairness, completed for $52.5 million and included a twin-loop system).
The Miami project is rife with potential risks, as explained above by McKinnon, to human life, equipment, and property across the area due to the high risk of sinkholes and underground caves that may have unexpected domino effects.
The Millionacres bottom line
If you’re already invested in Florida real estate as a property holder or developer, it’s going to be important that you pay attention to these projects and how they develop, should they be fully approved. There isn’t necessarily a risk to anyone, but there are far too many unknowns to declare these "boring" projects a success until the tunnels are finalized.
When the tunnels are completed, they will almost certainly become tourist attractions of a sort, owing to the immense amount of engineering and super-futuristic ambiance involved. This may bring more people to the areas they service, bumping up real estate values even further and improving the revenue generation for passive holdings in vehicles like local retail.