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Elon Musk may actually be serious about tunneling under L.A.

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Billionaire Elon Musk announced on twitter his latest project to dig holes through the ground in order to avoid traffic.
USA TODAY

One of the few people who is just rich, powerful and inventive enough to actually do something about the legendary traffic congestion in Los Angeles is finally fed up. And he has a plan.

Billionaire innovator Elon Musk declared early Wednesday that he’s ready to move ahead with his recently formulated ambitions to bore holes, possibly under the city.

“Exciting progress on the tunnel front,” Musk tweeted. “Plan to start digging in a month or so.”

Digging just where and how, no one knows. Coming from anyone else, such a declaration might brushed off as a joke.

But given that Musk is the entrepreneur who, with a team, reshaped mobile payments (PalPal), sent rockets into space (Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX) and launched an electric-car company (Tesla Motors), the tweets are unlikely to be dismissed. He is, after all, being taken seriously about a possible Mars mission.

And the tunneling industry is shoveling up a lot of work these days with expectations of growing revenue at an annualized rate of 7.3% from 2016 through 2021, rising to $5.6 billion, according to research firm IBISWorld.

Government investments are key drivers of the growth, representing about 69.5% of industry revenue. In Los Angeles, for instance, there are plenty of tunneling projects are part of an expansion of subway and light rail lines. Major companies in the tunneling business include San Francisco-based Bechtel Group and Omaha, Neb.-based Kiewit Corp., with market share of 4.1% and 2.4%, respectively, according to IBISWorld.

Musk first mentioned his boring plans in December. “Traffic is driving me nuts. Am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging,” he tweeted at the time, adding, “it shall be called ‘The Boring Company.'”

“Boring,” he said, apparently coining a catchphrase, “it’s what we do.”

To remove all doubt — OK, to remove some doubt — he added, “I am actually going to do this.”

In classic Musk fashion, on Wednesday he teased the forthcoming announcement with just enough detail to make you ponder the possibilities.

“Where will your tunnel be?” a Twitter user asked.

“Starting across from my desk at SpaceX,” he responded. “Crenshaw and the 105 Freeway, which is 5 mins from LAX.” Crenshaw Boulevard is a major north-south street in greater Los Angeles, not far from SpaceX’s headquarters in the suburb of Hawthorne.

Musk’s tunnel plans face a few, shall we say, bureaucratic hurdles, however.

For starters, the permitting process alone can be nightmare. A spokesman for the Los Angeles Department of Public Works did not respond to requests seeking comment. A spokesman for the nearby Los Angeles International Airport declined to comment.

The consumer watchdog organization U.S. Public Interest Research Group last year dubbed the longstanding attempt at an underground extension of the Long Beach Freeway through San Gabriel Valley in Los Angeles County one of the biggest transportation “boondoggles” in the country. The $3.2 billion to $5.6 billion project is the “most expensive, most polluting and least effective option for addressing the area’s transportation problems,” the group said.

Make no mistake, though: Musk has good timing. After meeting with President Trump on Monday to promote American manufacturing and praising Trump’s secretary of State nominee Tuesday, he renewed speculation about his tunnel ambitions just in time for the president’s infrastructure spending push.

A “large investment tunneling project” like Musk’s or the Hudson River rail tunnel project connecting New Jersey to New York “could be considered” as part of the Trump administration’s infrastructure spending, International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association communications director Bill Cramer said in an email.

“In general, the nation’s infrastructure is crumbling,” Cramer said. “There simply is not enough federal, state and local government funding to address all of the nation’s infrastructure needs. Private investors, working with state and local government and policymakers can be effective and efficient.”

Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.

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