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Despite bumpy test ride, city officials convinced Musk’s O’Hare express can work

Elon Musk, co-founder and chief executive officer of Tesla Inc., arrives in a modified Tesla Model X electric vehicle during an unveiling event for the Boring Company Hawthorne test tunnel in Hawthorne, Calif., on Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018. | Robyn Beck/Pool Photo via AP

Elon Musk, co-founder and chief executive officer of Tesla Inc., arrives in a modified Tesla Model X electric vehicle during an unveiling event for the Boring Company Hawthorne test tunnel in Hawthorne, Calif., on Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018. | Robyn Beck/Pool Photo via AP

After a bumpy, but exhilarating California test ride, a delegation of city officials returned home Wednesday more convinced than ever that Elon Musk’s plan to build a “Tesla-in-a-tunnel” high-speed transit system between downtown and O’Hare Airport would be “transformational for Chicago,” as one said.

Deputy Mayor Bob Rivkin, who led the Chicago delegation, said he wasn’t scared when the TeslaX he was riding in descended into the tunnel, and he didn’t suffer from motion sickness after the choppy, 45-mile-an-hour ride.

That’s less than half the speed that the visionary billionaire of Tesla and SpaceX fame has promised for the $25, 12-minute ride from downtown’s Block 37 to O’Hare Airport aboard an electric vehicle seating sixteen passengers.

“The tunnel is well-lit. You can see the turns in front of you,” Rivkin said. ” … You just get a sense of the simplicity of the whole thing. It’s a tunnel with a Tesla in it.”

He added: “This sort of notion that this is some kind of crazy, untried technology is just misinformed.”

Elon Musk's high-speed transit system in a tunnel in suburban Los Angeles | Provided/Matt OShea

Elon Musk’s high-speed transit system in a tunnel in suburban Los Angeles | Provided/Matt OShea

Rivkin acknowledged that Musk is controversial. “But there is no doubt that he and his team are brilliant engineers and they get stuff done. The application of these re-energized and re-imagined tunneling techniques would be transformative for Chicago,” he said. ” … Our visit here has confirmed for me what a fantastic project this would be for Chicago.”

After the “proof of concept” tunnel demonstration event in suburban Los Angeles, Musk admitted the ride was bumpy and “a little rough around the edges” but only because he “ran out of time” before the test.

His paving machine also didn’t operate quite as fast as he had hoped. With more time and fewer kinks, Musk promised that the ride would be “smooth as glass.”

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Rivkin was unfazed by the hiccups.

“It was bumpy for now because the track on which the car was riding had just been completed and the smoothing machine had not completely smoothed it out. But that’s not gonna be a problem going forward,” he said.

Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th), chairman of the City Council’s Aviation Committee, was one of six aldermen who went along for what they said truly was a thrill ride of a lifetime.

“It wasn’t the smoothest of rides. But it was the launch. He mentioned during his speech that they will be correcting that. It was just exciting to be in a tunnel like this. The ride was exciting. I wasn’t scared at all. It was neat,” O’Shea said.

“There’s always reservations. … This isn’t anything anybody is interested in rushing into. But, I look forward to continuing to talk about this. There are possibilities here.”

City officials take a test drive on Elon Musk's high-speed transit system in a tunnel in suburban Los Angeles earlier this week. | Provided/Matt O'Shea

City officials take a test drive on Elon Musk’s high-speed transit system in a tunnel in suburban Los Angeles earlier this week. | Provided/Matt O’Shea

O’Shea said he comes away from the test ride as a true believer in the enigmatic Musk.

“When he talked about building a vehicle that turned out to be Tesla, people dismissed him and look what he did. When he talked about building rocket ships, they said it was impossible and his company has 20 missions and an international space station,” O’Shea said.

Despite the delegation’s optimism, some candidates for mayor have raised questions about the project in Chicago.

Mayoral candidate Paul Vallas has branded Musk’s O’Hare express project “fool’s gold” that will “collapse of its own weight.”

He has argued that the $1 billion project will never get built because of concerns ranging from environmental impacts, regulatory approvals and financing costs to the premium fare market, what lies underground and Musk’s unproven, low-cost, high-speed tunneling technology.

Even so, Rivkin hopes to have a contract with The Boring Co. hammered out and introduced to the City Council during the first quarter of next year.

“It’s understandable people would have concerns. But, there really is no risk. … I’m confident that, if people focus on the transformative nature of the project and the incredibly low risk to the city financially and otherwise, they will be supportive,” Rivkin said.

“This is all on Musk’s nickel. … He is betting that people will flock to this and pay fares that … will be enough to pay for construction costs and perhaps make him a profit. There’s a chance that it won’t. But, that’s all on him.”

O’Shea doesn’t necessarily disagree. But he said City Council approval of a Musk contract should be postponed until Chicagoans choose a new mayor.