Aldermen, city officials to travel to L.A. for Elon Musk demonstration

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Elon Musk and Mayor Rahm Emanuel speak at a news conference in June about plans for an O’Hare express service. | Erin Brown/Sun-Times file photo

A taxpayer-funded delegation that includes eight Chicago aldermen and four city officials will travel to Los Angeles next week to get a first-hand look at the unproven technology Elon Musk plans to use to build a high-speed transit system between downtown and O’Hare Airport.

The Boring Company, owned by the visionary billionaire of Tesla fame, is conducting a “proof of concept” tunnel demonstration event in suburban Los Angeles.

It’ll be the first test of Musk’s so-far unproven technology along a mile-long tunnel between SpaceX headquarters in suburban Los Angeles and another location in that same town of Hawthorne, Ca.

So, Deputy Mayor Bob Rivkin and Leslie Darling, executive director of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s slow-starting Chicago Infrastructure Trust, are leading a Chicago delegation to witness Tuesday’s event and take a ride on the gee-whiz system.

The junket is being paid for by World Business Chicago.

Aldermen literally going along for the ride include Transportation Committee Chairman Anthony Beale (9th), Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th) and her vice-chair Jason Ervin (28th), Aviation Committee Chairman Matt O’Shea (19th) and Rules Committee Chairman Michelle Harris (8th).

So are Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), chairman of the City Council’s Hispanic Caucus, Black Caucus Chairman Roderick Sawyer (6th) and Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th).

The trip also includes Chicago Urban League President Barbara Lumpkin, Jorge Perez, executive director of the Hispanic American Construction Industry Association, Tom Budescu, managing director of finance for the Infrastructure Trust and Deanne Millison of the mayor’s office.

Mayoral candidates, academic experts and aldermen have raised caution flags about Emanuel’s choice of Musk to build the $1 billion O’Hare express system at his own expense.

Beale said he’s going to California with an open mind on “whether the technology is worth the investment.”

“We’re not going to give our blessing. We’re going to get educated on if this is something that we need to be investing in. If the technology is worth it,” Beale said.

“I have not formed an opinion on whether I’m for this or against this. I’m going to get educated.”

Mayoral candidates have urged Emanuel to slow down.

Paul Vallas has gone so far as to brand Musk’s “Tesla-in-a-tunnel” plan to whisk travelers between downtown and O’Hare Airport in 12 minutes as “fool’s gold” that will “collapse of its own weight.”

He has cited concerns ranging from environmental impacts, regulatory approvals and financing costs to what lies underground and Musk’s unproven, low-cost, high-speed tunneling technology.

But Beale said, “We’re not rushing it. I’m going to look at it.”

Musk envisions no problem attracting enough riders to have a one-way fare of $20 to $25 cover daily operating costs. The only question is how high the return on investment will be.

The always outspoken Austin is not so sure.

But she said, “Let’s take a look at it first, before we condemn it.”

Sources said the Emanuel administration is having “very productive talks” with Musk and hopes to have a contract with The Boring Co. “finalized very quickly” early next year.

But Austin said, “I see it being more so for the new mayor than Mayor Emanuel. Our contracts are not just so quick and easy. It’s not something we just zip, zip, zip. We rake it over the coals so long until you forget that it was even a project.”

Asked if she was prepared to take a fast ride on the new system, the chairman said, “I don’t know that I’m gonna be a guinea pig. That would be like saying I wanted to be a sky diver. I don’t know. I would have to see it first.”

On June 14, Musk stood beside Emanuel in the $200 million unfinished basement at Block 37 expected to be the downturn terminus of his underground transit system and said he hoped to start building his twin tunnels between downtown and O’Hare Airport within three to four months.

He said he chose Chicago to build the high-speed transit line because “the number of approving authorities is small” here. He advised those who believe that his technology is unproven and that his vision is pie-in-the-sky to look at the track record of his companies.

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