The problem with Chicago is …
Nope, that’s not right. “The problem” suggests there’s just one, when of course there are many.
Many, many problems.
Among the problems facing Chicago…
How you finish that sentence depends on who you are.
I’m tempted to say that, among all our pressing problems, from schools to cops to pensions to crime to infrastructure, “You just can’t get to O’Hare fast enough” qualifies for the list only if followed by “said no one ever.”
I go to O’Hare often, for work or pleasure. Usually, I admit, leaving early from the leafy suburban paradise, which means American Taxi does the deed for $31 plus tip.
But if I’m downtown, catching an afternoon flight, I jump on the Blue line, pay $2.50. It lets me off inside O’Hare. Can’t do better than that.
Yes, it takes 40 minutes of my super-valuable time. Yet never did I — or, I would wager, anybody — ever think: “If only some South African billionaire would show up and offer to dig an underground tunnel to speed me to the airport at 100 miles per hour. That would shave half an hour off the trip.”
No matter. Elon Musk has a new company — The Boring Company, a delightful name. And, out of the goodness of his heart, Musk is offering to spend $1 billion of his own money — well, of somebody’s money — to put in the system, which will charge between $20 and $25 for the silent trip in a jumbo subterranean Tesla.
Split the difference and say $22.50, or $20 more than the “L.” Doing the math — which Tesla’s investors have been doing more vigorously lately, now that the blush is going off the plans of the visionary businessman — those heading to the airport on the “L” instead of Musk’s system would effectively be paid $40 an hour to check their iPhone on a train as opposed to doing so while sitting at Terminal 3. A pretty good deal for most people.
In my 30 years at the Sun-Times I’ve seen my share of lofty schemes: circulator trams and monorails and floating island airports. They never happen for the simple reason that announcing grand plans is easy while achieving them is hard.
And nothing makes my hand shoot to my wallet faster than the phrase “at no cost to taxpayers.”
Which is not what Rahm said regarding his new Busy Rich Folks Underground Express to O’Hare. His phrase was “zero dollars from the public.” “At no cost to taxpayers” was Rich Daley talking about Millennium Park, which ended up setting back taxpayers about $100 million.
Not that I’m complaining. Gotta love that Bean. But still. How stupid does Rahm think we are?
Don’t answer that.
I should probably mention I know Elon’s brother, Kimbal. A tall, affable fellow, fond of farming, a bit goofy in that cowboy hat, but the rich have their quirks. I don’t think regard for him has skewed my judgment here, but you can be the judge.
The deputy mayor shrugged off the chance we’ll be left with a half-built tunnel.
“We already have such things under our city,” Robert Rivkin said.
Yeah, coal tunnels, abandoned, forgotten, then flooding back to view in 1992. A reminder that unexpected stuff happens: no-cost projects suddenly gobble public funds. Neophyte undercapitalized drilling companies blunder into unforeseen disasters. New modes of transportation ballyhooed by business, government and the trained seal media molder and are forgotten.
Such as? Such as my favorite Tribune headline: “PLAN N.Y.-CHICAGO AIR LINE.” Bannered across the page, Feb. 25, 1923.
A group of leading business “has definitely decided to start a dirigible air service between New York and Chicago.” The corporation was headed up by Marshall Field, William Wrigley and … wait for it … Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Roosevelt was there for a reason. The former assistant secretary of the Navy was diligently working behind-the-scenes to snag valuable German airship patents seized during the war and access naval airship bases and facilities.
“Franklin Delano Roosevelt provided the political leverage to put together a deal that was on the face of it illegal and certainly a long way from the ‘public trust,'” Anthony C. Sutton wrote in “Wall Street and FDR.”
Not that I’m suggesting that whatever deal the city has struck with Elon Musk is either illegal or not being done purely for the public good. That’ll take years of investigative digging to determine.