Elon Musk’s Boring Co. is the winner in a bid to build a multibillion-dollar high-speed express train to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. The result gives the young company a big boost in legitimacy as it tries to get transportation projects underway in Los Angeles and Washington.
The company beat out a consortium that included Mott MacDonald, the civil engineering firm that designed a terminal at London’s Heathrow Airport, and JLC Infrastructure, an infrastructure fund backed by former basketball star Earvin “Magic” Johnson, people with knowledge of the matter said. The city is expected to announce the news as soon as Thursday, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.
Boring Co. confirmed the agreement on Twitter after Bloomberg first reported the deal, saying, “We’re really excited to work with the Mayor and the City to bring this new high-speed public transportation system to Chicago!” It’s a sizable victory for a company that was launched just 18 months ago, is working with unproven futuristic ideas, and—aside from a test tunnel it is digging in the Los Angeles suburb Hawthorne, California—lacks construction experience.
“Elon Musk is looking for a place to prove his technology works, and Chicago is rolling out the red carpet for him,” said Joe Schwieterman, director of the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University in Chicago.
It is unclear exactly what the Boring Co. high-speed airport link would involve, but last year Musk tweeted about his ideas for Chicago. “Electric pods for sure,” he wrote. “Rails maybe, maybe not.”
The project is unusual in that no government funding is involved, forcing the winner to finance the entire construction cost itself. That limited interest from bidders, and has caused some to take a skeptical view of the so-called O’Hare Express project, which has been in the works for years.
“I suspect it’s going to evolve a few times before anything concrete gets done,” said Hani Mahmassani, a professor of engineering at Northwestern University. That said, with his other companies, Musk has “been able to pursue and fulfill visions that others say are too difficult,” Mahmassani added.
Winning the nod means the city of Chicago will negotiate exclusively with Boring for one year over details of the project, which aims to connect downtown Chicago with O’Hare, about 15 miles and a $40 taxi ride away. A final go-ahead requires approval from the city council.
In its request for proposals, the city set a goal of connecting downtown with the airport in 20 minutes or less, with service every 15 minutes for the majority of the day. It also requested that fares be below the current rates for taxis and ride-share trips.
Currently, Chicagoans can ride to the airport for $5 on a Chicago Transit Authority train, taking about 40 minutes.