Momentum builds for Elon Musk tunnel under New River in Fort Lauderdale

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Susannah Bryan, South Florida Sun Sentinel
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Talk of building a cutting-edge train tunnel under the New River gained steam this week, with billionaire Elon Musk’s Boring Co. saying it would cost only $10 million to $20 million per mile.

That’s a far cry from state estimates of $1 billion per mile, said Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis, who met with Boring Co. executives on Monday and will be sitting in on another Zoom chat set up for Wednesday by Broward Vice Mayor Michael Udine.

The low number of $10 million a mile had civil engineer Fred Bloetscher scratching his head.

“That seems really cheap,” said Bloetscher, associate dean of undergraduate studies and a civil engineering professor at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. “The idea that he can do that for $50 million seems crazy inexpensive. That seems too good to be true.”

Underground tunnels usually cost around $1 billion a mile, Bloetscher said.

But if anyone can turn the price on its head, it’s the man who gave us the SpaceX rocket, he added.

“Hey, he’s done other things we thought couldn’t be done,” Bloetscher said. “He has a reusable rocket. No one thought that could be done. Maybe it can be done. Who am I to argue with the richest guy in the world?”

Trantalis held his first Zoom meeting this week with Boring Co. executives along with Brightline officials and City Manager Chris Lagerbloom.

“They told us a tunnel would cost $10 million and $20 million per mile,” Trantalis said. “We invited them to do a feasibility study. Who knows, maybe we could have other tunnels built. A tunnel under Las Olas, so people could park their cars downtown and take a light rail system underground to go to the beach. And maybe another tunnel from Weston to downtown.”

But for now, the focus is on finding another way to get trains across the New River. The Florida East Coast Railway bridge in downtown Fort Lauderdale is normally kept open, closing only to make way for trains.

An underground tunnel for passenger rail would help cut down on the number of times both cars and boaters are held up by the train, a refrain Trantalis has been repeating since he first floated the idea in 2018.

State transportation officials say a tunnel under the New River would cost more than $3 billion — nearly seven times more than a $445 million bridge with a 55-foot span.

That’s in line with the $1 billion Port of Miami tunnel that spans just under a mile at 4,200 feet.

“The cost is too high for a tunnel, but the Boring company says they can do it much cheaper,” Udine said Tuesday. “It’s worth a conversation. I’m not an engineer, but let’s at least start the conversation and see if there’s an option. It never hurts to look at options.”

Boring Co. officials could not be reached for comment.

Musk’s Boring Co., headquartered in Hawthorne, California, has already built two tunnels nearly a mile long around the Las Vegas Convention Center for $53 million. And over the summer, transportation officials in San Bernardino County backed a Boring Co. proposal for a $60 million, 2.8-mile tunnel that will link a Metrolink rail station with Ontario International Airport.

Usually tunnels are the top of the line in terms of cost, said Jean-Pierre Bardet, a civil engineering professor and former dean of University of Miami’s College of Engineering.

“But I think Elon has done something to cut down the costs,” Bardet said. “He’s done it with space. I think he’s doing it now with tunneling. You always have pioneers leading the way. He is doing things that people thought were impossible. Many of us are excited to see what he can do.”

The company website gives at least some insight into how they can cut costs.

“Currently, tunnels are really expensive to dig, with many projects costing between $100 million and $1 billion per mile,” Boring’s site says. “In order to make vast tunnel networks feasible, tunneling costs must be reduced by a factor of more than 10.”

The company says it’s reducing tunneling costs using several innovations, including producing the tunnel’s precast concrete lining in-house; developing alternative methods of reusing excavated tunnel dirt; and designing and using all-electric tunneling equipment.

Trantalis says he’s already been to Washington, D.C., to speak with federal transportation officials about the possibility of helping fund a tunnel project.

“First we have to look at the realistic cost,” Trantalis said. “We’re still in the investigations phase. We are in the 21st century. We have technology to accomplish what needs to be accomplished.”

Susannah Bryan can be reached at or on Twitter @Susannah_Bryan