SpaceX to Build Tunnel for Employees Under Crenshaw Boulevard

When Elon Musk posted this Tweet early on a Saturday morning back in December, the Interwebs went wild. There was all sorts of speculation that Elon was starting a new business and that it had something to do with habitats on Mars. Or that he was venting while stuck in traffic on one of LA’s notoriously clogged arteries.

As I reported at the time, all of that speculation was dead wrong. The tweets had nothing to do with any of that stuff.

I learned from a source  that Musk was tweeting three hours after three female SpaceX employees were hit by a car that ran a red light while crossing the street outside of SpaceX headquarters. All three victims ended up in the hospital, but they survived.

The source told me the company had been working on trying to build a tunnel under busy Crenshaw Boulevard to prevent such incidents. Musk’s handling of the accident was upsetting and heartless, the source said.

Musk never tweeted about the accident, expressed any public sympathy for the three injured women, or sought the public’s help in finding the hit-and-run driver who nearly killed his employees. Nor did he do anything to correct all the erroneous media speculation that kept the public spotlight on himself and his mysterious new venture.

As it turned out, the source was right about the tunnel. The Daily Breeze has a story today about SpaceX’s plans to build a tunnel under Crenshaw Boulevard where the employees were hit by the car. Construction is set to start in about a month.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a Musk project without much grander ambitions. His ultimate goal is to tunnel under the freeway and create a direct route to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

Of course, that would be a much bigger project than building a tunnel under a street, would stretch out over many years, and multiple government agencies.  So, who knows whether it will ever get built. SpaceX has a lot of other higher priorities than cutting travel time to LAX.

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  • mike_shupp

    Probably a lot of money to be made in devices which dig big wide tunnels quickly. Think how much present day methods have cost for the LA subway system and Boston’s Big Dig. And it’s not like cities are around the world are going to be giving up on subways this century. Elon may have found himself another winner.

  • patb2009

    this is a huge amount of money…

    Concrete is expensive.

  • Douglas Messier

    Maybe. Or maybe he could focus whatever percent of his time he’s spending on tunneling to moving commercial crew along.

  • Smokey_the_Bear

    Which is why he is launching his new company tomorrow: Muskrete

  • Douglas Messier

    I like it!

  • windbourne

    what does tunneling have to do with spaceX’s commercial crew?

  • Douglas Messier

    Elon Musk.

  • Stu

    If musk actually cared about his employees, he wouldn’t make them work the hours he does. I just don’t get the love for him, given his general disregard for those that work for him. The same, of course, could be said of Steve Jobs. Being rich and successful appears to be more important than being a good human being.

  • Nothing new for aerospace companies. Rocketdyne had a tunnel that went under Canoga Avenue in Woodland Hills. They moved both people and hardware that way.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    So you think that a spanner in one hand and welding torch in the other would achieve what a dedicated management team together with a thousand other employees can’t?.

  • Vladislaw

    actually it is cheap relatively for building materials.

  • Richard Malcolm

    Musk’s handling of the accident was upsetting and heartless, the source said.

    Working only from public behavior – Twitter included – I must say that I have not had that impression. Or at least, not to the extent that Musk was unusually heartless by the standards of any major CEO – I don’t think there is any obligation to make a public gesture, especially not if something is being done or said privately. But I lack any context of working there or having sources who do, so I am quite prepared to such a possibility. If your employees have a general sense that you’re being heartless and offensive (if this is indeed the case), that’s not a good thing.

    Either way, it will be a good thing if this tunnel is indeed built. If Musk is making this happen, I suppose that’s to his credit.

  • Jeff2Space

    It’s not that companies like SpaceX *make* salaried employees work more than 40 hours a week. It’s that it’s pretty much expected. At one point in my career, I was working those sorts of “SpaceX” like hours. Thankfully, I can now work less than 50 hours a week.

  • Stu

    The reality is that if you don’t pull crazy hours, you won’t have a job, though. I did a job in the US (which to be fair I enjoyed) with 15 hour days every weekday for a couple of years, and whilst we delivered a really good product, it wasn’t healthy. We were paid for 8 hours a day, mind. The tradeoff was that I learned a lot, but equally, it was exploitation of a form that is too common in the US.

  • Douglas Messier

    Musk set up his desk at the end of the Tesla assembly line and slept in a sleeping bag on the floor.

    Did this actually help? Or was it a distraction to the employees?

    I don’t know.

    Would a similar gesture help at SpaceX? Probably not.

    But, here’s the problem: it’s not clear commercial crew is that much of a priority at SpaceX. It seems to be one of too many priorities. There have been complaints from NASA about that very issue. Complaints that they’re focused on too many things. That the commercial crew team is too busy with projects in addition to Crew Dragon.

    I can’t think of the last time I saw Musk Tweet or mention commercial crew. It reinforces the concerns NASA has that the program is simply another project in a growing list of them that now includes tunneling to LAX.

    Soyuz hasn’t had a fatal accident since 1971. But the way Russian quality control is going lately, it could only be a matter of time. It doesn’t even have to be a fatal accident; an inflight abort could ground the booster and capsule for months.

  • Paul451

    If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t.

  • Douglas Messier

    Read Ashlee Vance’s biography of Musk. This incident will make a lot more sense. Believe me. It comports with what’s in the book and the stories I’ve heard about Musk and SpaceX.

  • redneck

    The soundbite that captures it is “If everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority.” I first remember seeing it on a wall plaque somewhere.

  • Daniel Böttger

    He isn’t making them, they can quit at any time. And lots do.

    Those who don’t seem to value working with this particular company more highly than having lots of spare time. Some people just have this urge to make history, and SpaceX does give them a shot at that.

    I for one admire that although I’m not that kind of person. That is better than assuming they’re like me yet being forced my Evil Mr Musk to behave unlike me.

  • Daniel Böttger

    Yes but it is also a test project. Musk has said before that he really likes tunnels and thinks they should be part of the solution to congestion. This gives him an opportunity to get practical experience with the subject matter. He’s probably very interested in how much cheaper and faster tunnel boring machines could be.

    Which does make some sense from a business standpoint. Tunnel boring is a small market with few players and high entry costs that is financed primarily by government contracts. A lot like the launch business really. And Musk is acutely aware that such conditions breed inefficiencies that can be exploited.

  • Daniel Böttger

    I agree with your other points, but the sleeping bag at the assembly line thing did have a productive result, according to Musk. He credits it with triggering his rethinking of assembly line manufacturing as an overall physical process, with output as volume times density times velocity.

    https://electrek.co/2016/06/01/elon-musk-machines-making-machines-rant-about-tesla-manufacturing/

    At Tesla, this has led to initiatives for optimized factory production and significantly higher production targets.

    Doesn’t translate to SpaceX unfortunately, because machines still aren’t precise enough to produce rockets on an assembly line.

  • Mr. Musk is coming to tunneling late in life.

    Kids from my era usually designed several different tunneling machines before age 10.

    Implementing them back then usually took international funding and efforts though.

  • windbourne

    your lack of understanding why, really does not matter.
    I used to work 80 hrs/wk for IBM watson, Bell Labs, NASA, NSA, and several start-ups.
    Why did I do that? Because I was making a difference AND it was exciting work. Probably the least exciting was NASA with Mars Global Surveyor. And yet, I would do it again, if I were able and working for a company like SpaceX or Tesla.

  • windbourne

    it is exploitation IFF you oppose to working those hours and are forced to do so.

    OTOH, if you agree to work those AND you are learning or working with interesting equipment or are making a difference or are earning stocks, then it really is not exploitation.

  • windbourne

    and that is it. As such, one does not impact the other.

  • Stu

    12 hours a day for 7 days a week is pretty much where we were in the 1890s. If you think that is good or sustainable, you have drunk too much of the kool-aid dispensed by American employers. It has been shown repeatedly to be both inefficient and unhealthy. That said, a lot of the Americans I worked with spent a lot of the “working” day chatting, rather than actually being productive. I don’t mean any offence by that, but a 12 hour working day in the US was much easier than the same in the UK (in my experience — IBM Hursley, etc).

  • patb2009

    but, all the stuff that goes with concrete gets expensive.

    Engineering, geo test, digging, soil studies, steel placement, managing traffic,
    . A small overpass bridge can run $80 Million.