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Elon Musk’s Boring Company wins approval to dig a two-mile test tunnel in California

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The boring machine will dig 44 feet underground outside SpaceX headquarters

The City Council in Hawthorne, California voted four to one last night in favor of a plan from Elon Musk’s Boring Company to dig a two-mile-long underground test tunnel. The Boring Company, which operates from SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne outside Los Angeles, had until now only dug into and under its own private property. But the newly-approved extension will stretch beyond the company’s property line, with the tunnel running 44 feet below the public roads and utilities that surround SpaceX headquarters.

This test tunnel is just that — a dry run that will make sure the most basic parts of the Boring Company’s plans actually work. The planned route doesn’t go under any privately-owned residential or commercial property aside from what SpaceX already owns, according to the company. When the test tunnel is finished, the city can request that the Boring Company either fill it with concrete slurry or soil.

People who find themselves in the area won’t even notice that anything is happening, according to Brett Horton, the senior director of facilities and construction for SpaceX. He assured the Council and the members of the public that they won’t see, hear, or feel any of the digging. “They won’t even know we’re there,” he said, even though the giant boring machine will be right below the ground.

The test tunnel route.
Photo: Hawthorne City Council

It’s a far cry from a network of underground hyperloops that spans the eastern seaboard, but it’s an important step for Musk’s project. It’s also a more concrete accomplishment than “verbal govt approval,” as he put it in a tweet back in July.

“This is groundbreaking, this is establishing a precedent, and I think we all agree that we want to make sure that this goes off without a hitch,” Hawthorne’s Mayor Alex Vargas said at the end of the City Council meeting.

The Boring Company still needs to acquire an “encroachment permit” before it can dig the test tunnel. And despite the assurances made, at least one person was still wary of the idea. During the period of the meeting open for questions from the public, a citizen referenced the problems with collapsing soil that plagued the efforts to build a subway extension in North Hollywood in the 1990s. “What guarantees [do we have] that this doesn’t happen in Hawthorne?” he asked of the council, and of Horton.

Horton explained that the company thoroughly tests the soil and will provide the results to the city on a daily basis. If the ground moves so much as a half-inch in either direction, work will stop until a solution is found. Otherwise, if the public has any concerns, Horton said they can contact the city — or just come to SpaceX headquarters. “Our operations team is on site at the entrance shaft, so we’re easy to reach,” he said.