Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Tunneling in San Jose could be much cheaper in the near future

Most people don't see disruptive technology coming. It's often met with a lot of skepticism. There are plenty of famous quotes about computers or the internet. In 1943 The president of IBM said "I think there is a world market for about five computers." In 1995 Newsweek published an article that said, “The internet is just a fad.” However, even today in markets that have been stagnant for decades or even a century we're seeing disruption.

People laughed when Elon wanted to build electric cars. Tesla is now worth more every other car company combined. They laughed again when he wanted to start a rocket company. Today there are 7,702 active satellites in space--5,000 of them belong to SpaceX. By the end of next year, SpaceX will have launched more satellites than every government entity around the world combined over the past 66 years. So now... of course, there had to be much skepticism in the San Jose development community about the Boring Company. Tunnels have been built almost the same way for 100 years, what could the company possibly do differently?

Apparently a lot. The Boring Company already has a functioning tunnel network in Las Vegas with 4 active stations and capacity for 5,000 people/hour. It took one year to build. That will expand to 69 stations and capacity for over 100,000 people/hour over the next few years (not decades). They have managed to get to a cost of $10 million/mile for 14-ft wide tunnels with 2nd generation tunneling machines using EV motors and batteries. Now it looks like they might be able to triple tunnel construction speed with hexagonal wall tiles.

The big benefit is that all the pieces are exactly the same, cutting costs significantly. Fewer segments are required per mile and it enables continuous mining. There are challenges and disadvantages as well, especially around water, but if they can push through them they will very likely disrupt tunneling. It gets a bit nerdy, but there is a 15min video in the source link below that goes into exactly how this new process would work versus existing methods.

What this means for us, is perhaps there will be a future where we can bring VTA Light Rail underground or perhaps offer Personal Rapid Transit (autonomous pods) or other forms of transportation at a lower cost to San Joseans. After seeing BART costs swell to $2 billion per mile for the Downtown San Jose extension, there has to be a better solution long-term for other projects.

Full disclosure that San Jose did reach out to The Boring Company as an option to connect San Jose International Airport with Diridon in Downtown San Jose. They never responded to a RFI and things fell through. 

That doesn't mean there couldn't be other opportunities in the future to work together. A fun fact is that the original Tesla factory was supposed to be in North San Jose/Alviso. However, an opportunity to take over NUMMI presented itself in 2010 and the rest is history. Hopefully the door is still open for The Boring Company and San Jose to work together in some capacity.

No comments:

Post a Comment