CHICAGO – Elon Musk’s The Boring Company is Chicago’s pick to design, finance, build, and operate express transit service between downtown Chicago and O’Hare International Airport.
The infrastructure and tunnel construction firm founded in 2016 by the chief executive officer of electric vehicle producer Tesla and aerospace manufacturer SpaceX was chosen over O’Hare Express, a consortium that includes Chicago-based broker-dealer Loop Capital Markets LLC’s infrastructure arm.
“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,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a brief statement distributed late Wednesday. “This transformative project will help Chicago write the next chapter in our legacy of innovation and invention.”
City officials continue to stress that the project would be privately financed by The Boring Company with no city financial commitment. That leaves project-specific revenues such as fares or advertising to support the project. The city has not released a cost estimate but industry sources have said it could cost about $1 billion while the company said it can complete the line for less than $1 billion.
A timeline on construction has not been disclosed nor has the exact ownership or lease structure involving the line’s tunnel system.
Emanuel will formally announce the firm’s selection Thursday, setting the stage for negotiations with the goal of reaching a final contract agreement that would go to the City Council for approval.
News of the selection began to circulate late Wednesday and The Boring Company posted on its website the most detailed information to date on what form the express service might take.
“Boring Company has been selected by the Chicago Infrastructure Trust on behalf of the city of Chicago, to design, build, finance, operate and maintain an O’Hare Express service. The Chicago Express Loop will provide fast and convenient transportation between O’Hare Airport (Terminals 1-3) and Block 37 in downtown Chicago,” reads the site. “The Boring Company aims to alleviate soul-destroying traffic by constructing safe, affordable, and environmentally-friendly public transportation systems.”
The trip would take 12 minutes and fares have not been finalized “but will be less than half the typical price of taxi/ride-share services, though higher than the Blue Line,” according to the site.
There is already train service between downtown and the airport: the Chicago Transit Authority’s Blue Line costs $5 when boarding at O’Hare, $2.50 otherwise. The trip downtown takes about 45 minutes. Taxis and ride shares typically cost between $40 to $50 and travel time can run from between a half hour to more than an hour depending on traffic.
The Boring Company says it will make the run in 12 minutes.
It promises a high-speed underground public transportation system in which passengers are transported on autonomous electric skates traveling at 125-150 miles per hour. Electric skates – to be built on a modified Tesla Model X SUV chassis – would carry between eight and 16 passengers, or a single-passenger vehicle could leave stations as frequently as every 30 seconds. The Chicago Express Loop would operate 20 hours per day, every day of the week. The route is still part of negotiations.
The Boring Company says it knows how to increase tunneling speed and drop tunneling costs by a factor of 10 or more compared to traditional methods, but has not delivered such a tunnel to the public.
The Chicago project also could face environmental hurdles and legal challenges should groups challenge it. The city has countered that its finances won’t be at risk.
Emanuel earlier this year renewed the long-sought after goal of an airport express that was first envisioned by his predecessor Richard M. Daley. The city and its Chicago Infrastructure Trust launched a process seeking interest and qualifications from firms. It received responses from four firms or groups and in March narrowed the field down to two who were then asked to submit requests for proposals. The deadline was last month.
The other finalist group was made up of Meridiam, Antarctica Capital, JLC Infrastructure, Mott MacDonald, and First Transit. JLC is a partnership between Chicago-based Loop Capital and Magic Johnson Enterprises. The proposal offered a more traditional above-ground high-speed service.
The other original respondents were Oaktree Capital Management and O’Hare Express Train Partners, which is a team that included OHL Infrastructure, Kiewit, and Amtrak.
Emanuel has called the project crucial to efforts to build on the city’s international reputation and business groups have endorsed it. In addition to questions over whether Musk can deliver on the technology needed, some critics question the value of the project unless expanded to offer additional stops, whether the city would truly bear no fiscal commitment, and worry about how much a ride on the express line will have to cost to make it pencil out for the private partners.
About 20,000 air passengers travel daily between O’Hare and the Chicago Central Business District, the city says, and that’s forecast to grow to at least 35,000 daily air passengers in 2045.
The express line is being pursued as the city is also embarking on an $8.5 billion makeover of O’Hare’s terminals. In another airport-related development, the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority on Wednesday signed a letter of intent with Canadian Pacific Railway to negotiate an agreement on the tollway’s use of railway property paving the way for a new access road to O’Hare on its western edge.