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Elon Musk and his big tech plan for Miami cause a stir

Expert opinions clash with Miami leaders as Elon Musk presents an idea to use big tech to build car tunnels in Miami

On Jan. 18, 2021, Tesla founder Elon Musk posted a tweet proposing a solution to mitigate Miami traffic. He suggested that his company, The Boring Company, make a big tech move and build car tunnels under Miami. According to Musk, vehicles in traffic generate gases that hurt the environment. These tunnels could also solve that issue.

The tweet reads, “Cars & trucks stuck in traffic generate megatons of toxic gases & particulate, but @boringcompany road tunnels under Miami would solve traffic & be an example to the world. If Governor & Mayor want this done, we will do it.”

Mayor Francis Suarez quickly tweeted in response. In part, he wrote, “We would love to be the prototype city.”

Critics of Elon Musk appeared rapidly. One went as far as saying that Miami is “the sinkhole capital of the United States.” Field geophysicist and disaster researcher Mika McKinnon, from Vancouver, said this. 

The science behind McKinnon’s statement shows that Miami’s floor has cavities. To build the tunnel, then, McKinnon notes that water would have to be pumped out as they go. There is also a huge risk of the streets above collapsing. 

“Because part of the issue with the changing of the water table is that it won’t be a direct cause and effect. 30 blocks away is what is going to sink,” said McKinnon. Elon Musk could face legal issues in the event that streets fall vulnerable to sinkholes. 

McKinnon also notes that Miami is one of the most susceptible cities to sea-level rise. This would pose a major issue for the tunnels. 

Other experts note that building a tunnel in Miami would be expensive. For example, a 4,200-foot-long tunnel at Port Miami, which was 120 feet below the surface, cost $668.5 million.

Conrad Felice, a professor at the University of Florida, is on the opposite side. Felice believes in the possibility of Miami tunnels. In his opinion, the team just needs to implement detailed plans and precautions.

Michael Mooney seconds this. He is a professor of underground construction and tunneling at the Colorado School of Mines. Mooney says that South Florida has a limestone foundation. This means the foundation is like a sponge—water moves through it easily. 

According to Mooney, tunneling through limestone is common. He adds that rising sea levels would likely increase pressure on the tunnel. But he says the structural design of the tunnel can reduce this pressure. 

There are some mixed reviews about building these tunnels. Still, Mayor Suarez has taken the conversation beyond Twitter. He had a conversation with The Boring Company's president of transit, Steve Davis. The two talked about how tunnels could ease Miami traffic congestion.

Mayor Suarez believes that the company can address the stalled aspects of Miami-Dade’s SMART plan. In particular, Musk’s company could build tunnels at a price point of $10 million per mile. This is less than the $30 million per mile it costs to build the South Dade busway. 

While the debate continues, you can keep up with updates from Mayor Suarez via his Twitter account @FrancisSuarez. You can also follow Elon Musk for updates at @elonmusk

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