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Elon Musk’s O’Hare express project is ‘fool’s gold,’ Vallas says

Visionary billionaire Elon Musk’s plan to build a “Tesla-in-a-tunnel” transit line to whisk travelers between downtown and O’Hare Airport in 12 minutes is “fool’s gold” that will “collapse of its own weight,” mayoral challenger Paul Vallas said Friday.

Vallas flatly predicted that the $1 billion project would never get built because of concerns ranging from environmental impacts, regulatory approvals and financing costs to what lies underground and Musk’s unproven, low-cost, high-speed tunneling technology.

He also pointed to how preoccupied the Tesla CEO now is with more recent troubles of his own making.

A tweet that he wanted to take Tesla private and had the “funding secured” has triggered lawsuits as well as an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission because of its impact on Tesla stock.

Investors have accused Musk of fraudulently engineering a scheme to squeeze short-sellers of Tesla stock.

“It’s gonna collapse on its own weight. It’s not going anywhere….He’s got his hands full with the SEC investigation. The star has significantly faded…He’s struggling in all of his industries,” Vallas told the Chicago Sun-Times.

“The whole idea that they were gonna dig a hole all the way to O’Hare so people could get to the airport maybe 30 minutes faster and use untried technology to do the digging and turn this around in record time — particularly given the track record with [Tesla] or even with his rockets — it’s fool’s gold.”

Mayoral candidate Paul Vallas is interviewed by Sun-Times reporter Fran Spielman at City Hall Friday, Aug. 17, 2018. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Mayoral candidate Paul Vallas is interviewed by Sun-Times reporter Fran Spielman at City Hall Friday, Aug. 17, 2018. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Vallas said the project has already served its purpose for Mayor Rahm Emanuel — by generating front-page headlines that diverted attention from crime and other intransigent city problems.

“It was the shiny object…Let’s distract people with this shiny object. Look at this. Don’t look at that. We have more important priorities….This is Chicago. People are pretty cynical. Where’s the beef?” he said.

Emanuel’s campaign manager Jay Rowell responded to Vallas’ prediction with a personal put-down.

“If anyone knows failure, it’s Paul Vallas. From Chicago State to Philadelphia and back to CPS, everywhere he went Paul left a sea of red ink,” Rowell wrote in an email to the Sun-Times.

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 his own “track record” and the track record of his companies.

“I’ve done a few things … that I think are pretty tricky. We started SpaceX from scratch. Now it is the world’s leading launch company recently exceeding Russia and China – Boring and Lockheed combined. Now has the most powerful rocket in the world. You may have seen the landing where we landed the two side-boosters simultaneously at Cape Canaveral,” Musk said.

“The number of people in the aerospace industry – including the best experts – who said that could be done was zero. I don’t mean one or two. I mean zero.”

Contrast that brash, bad-boy confidence with the interview that an admittedly emotional and shaken Musk gave this week for a front-page story that appeared in Friday’s New York Times.

The newspaper described Musk as “struggling to maintain his composure” and openly admitting that the last year has been “excruciating” and “the most difficult and painful year of my career.”

Electric car maker Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk gives the opening keynote at the SXSW Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas.

Electric car maker Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk has admitted in a wide-ranging interview with The New York Times that stress is taking a heavy toll in what he calls an “excruciating year.” | AP file photo

Also on Friday, Vallas ripped Emanuel for deciding — without City Council approval  to spend a $10.4 million settlement triggered by inadequate driver background checks by ride-sharing giants Uber, Lyft and Via to bolster mentoring programs for at-risk youth.

“Rahm’s unilateral decision…. is typical of his imperious management of the city. Just like his unilateral decision to divert TIF dollars to Navy Pier and to dole out millions from the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund without any oversite, Rahm is increasingly acting like he works for private industry rather than the people of Chicago.

“I am not against mentoring programs, but Chicago has many crying needs for program funding, including money to re-open the six community mental health centers he arbitrarily closed his first year in office. It is apparent to most people in Chicago that those mental health clinics are needed now more than ever and should get a share of this money. An inclusive discussion on how to use this money should take place immediately.”

Vallas said the security lapses that triggered the fines also underscore the need to inspect ride-hailing vehicles and fingerprint their drivers.