Elon and those damn tunnels are at it again: Musk’s Boring Company and the San Bernardino County board of supervisors have agreed to dig one in my hometown of Ontario, California. And I’m on the fence about it. Our local newspaper, the Daily Bulletin, reports that if a final agreement is reached, the tunnel could be in operation by ’23 or early ’24.
The plan for the tunnel appears to be simple enough. The Boring Company would dig a four-mile-long tunnel from Ontario International Airport to the neighboring city of Rancho Cucamonga. There, the tunnel would end at the Metrolink train station. There would be two stations for the tunnel at the airport, one at each terminal with the tunnel dividing at the airport.
The plan hasn’t received final approval. The county’s report highlights that if this were to move forward, it would have to be approved at the state and federal level. That’s not including the approvals required from the Federal Transit Administration, Caltrans and Union Pacific, all of which have a say in the matter.
There are a few problems with this plan, which is why I said I’m on the fence about it. I’m all for public transportation projects. But this tunnel amounts to nothing more than a rushed Band-Aid for a better transportation system that’s been caught up in red tape.
The tunnel is seen as a replacement for the proposed LA Metro Gold Line Extension. If you’re unfamiliar with that, here’s the gist: Los Angeles County, along with LA Metro, wants to build an extension of the Gold Line light rail system from the San Gabriel Valley (the city of Pomona to be exact) to Ontario International Airport. Currently, the Gold Line ends in Pasadena.
The problem is that two neighboring counties are at odds with each other. LA County sees this as an opportunity to finally get its Metro system farther into the eastern part of the county. But San Bernardino County sees this as an intrusion into its transportation decisions. The extension would reportedly cost between $1 billion and $1.5 billion dollars and take 10 years to build. By comparison, the tunnel would cost only $85 million. San Bernardino doesn’t want the extension, preferring investment and expansion of the local Metrolink line. This dispute has all been going on for the past few years.
Another challenge would be the danger of both digging and using the tunnel. Multiple fault lines cross the area and could become unstable if hit during construction, and there’s the danger of a collapse in an earthquake. Other problems are more local and specific to the area. Having only three stations, with two of them at the airport, ensures this would be used by airline travelers more than the local population. Also, the airport has seen better days; passenger volume has been down for years. And the street that the tunnel would be built under is a busy industrial route for trucks heading to Interstate 10.
This whole thing needs better planning — or not done at all. If built, it’ll be the result of a vanity project by a man with too much money and a county that’s in a hurry to build something, anything that can prove it has a better idea for the region’s transportation than the most populous county in the country.