Given the growing cost of gasoline and the popularity of eco-conscious consumer decisions, it’s no wonder that electric vehicles have become more commonplace. With more than two dozen models now commercially available, some 800,000 Americans have made the switch to driving EVs. But no matter what you drive, that won’t always make the commute from downtown Chicago to O’Hare International Airport any more bearable. The so-called expressway is usually slow and congested; the only other option is to take the L train, which isn’t much better. But now, Elon Musk and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel say they might have an appealing, high-tech solution that could change everything.
As one of the nation’s busiest airports, O’Hare is no stranger to overcrowding. It offers direct flights to 217 destinations throughout the world and serves as a major hub for both United and American Airlines. While the global aviation industry transported approximately $6.4 trillion worth of cargo in 2017, O’Hare alone shipped over 1.9 million tonnes of cargo in 2017 — coming in third among major U.S. airports. O’Hate is also the sixth-busiest airport and served 79.8 million passengers last year.
But getting there has historically been a real pain. Taking the L train from downtown to the airport takes anywhere from 40 to 50 minutes. Despite the fact the distance between the two is only 16 miles, it can take even longer if you travel via car. That could all change, though, if Musk is able to develop his plans to bring large electric vehicle transport to the area.
According to Mayor Emanuel and the proposal from Musk’s Boring Company, the transport alternative would involve new underground tunnels and large EVs (known as “skates”) that could transport 16 riders and their luggage in about 12 minutes. These zero-emission vehicles would be battery powered and could depart every 30 seconds, traveling at 100 to 150 miles per hour to reach their destination in record time. They’d also offer WiFi and be climate controlled. Musk’s company proposal indicated to the city of Chicago that the fares would likely be more than the $5 passengers pay to ride the L (though they could be as low as $1 per person) but would be less than the $40 it typically takes to take a taxi.
Although early estimates guessed the undertaking would cost close to $1 billion, Mayor Emanuel promised in a statement that no taxpayer money would be used for the development of the transportation alternative, noting: “This transformative project will help Chicago write the next chapter in our legacy of innovation and invention.”
Reportedly, Musk would actually front the construction costs but would then rake in the revenue from transit fees and ad-generated profits (including shopping opportunities during the 12-minute ride that would likely use vehicle touch screens).
Still, the project looks like it could be in line with other expansions related to O’Hare. The airport itself is expected to undergo a gate capacity increase of 25%, and nearly $500 has already been allotted to modernize the L line train.
If the project ends up going forward, it could mean big things for Chicago travelers and for the city itself. But whether Musk will be able to deliver remains to be seen.