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Fort Lauderdale's Mayor On The Tesla Tunnel That Could Be Coming To The City

 The city commission sees the proposed tunnel as a traffic solution for Las Olas Blvd.
Caitie Switalski Munoz
The city commission sees the proposed tunnel as a traffic solution for Las Olas Blvd.

A tunnel of Elon Musk's Teslas is getting closer to transporting people from Downtown Fort Lauderdale to the beach and back.

There's been a lot of buzz about the idea but the proposal has also been getting a lot of criticism. It's also not a done deal yet.

The city commission may have accepted a proposal by The Boring Company, but that came with a window for other companies to submit proposals for the project. That 45-day period is set to end Monday, Aug. 30, at 5 p.m., according to a spokesperson for the city.

WLRN spoke with Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis about why he believes the futuristic project is what the city needs, who would pay for it, and why he thinks it won't be "the Wave Streetcar 2.0."

The following conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

WLRN: I have to start with the issue of sea level rise. Florida's made of limestone. Why would an underground tunnel work here?  

TRANTALIS: We already have tunnels in Florida. We have a tunnel here in Fort Lauderdale that was built 60 years ago. We have no problems with it.

The Boring Company … they brought their chief geologist here. They did an examination of the underground structure. They feel that they can build a safe and sustainable underground tunnel here in our city.

We know in the end that the goal is going to be to be able to bring people from our downtown to our beach in a matter of a few minutes without the hassle of going through all the traffic.

As we have polled our community year after year, asking them, you know, what are the challenges that they see that are most important to them? And traffic conditions have seemed to be number one every year, year after year.

We just spent all this money on a traffic consultant to try to come up with solutions for traffic on Las Olas, and no one was happy with the result. You cannot make Las Olas any wider. I don't care how many times you paint a lane and arrows — these streets were designed for a certain amount of volume.

So by siphoning off the number of vehicles from the streets, by creating an underground system — people might even prefer to go through the tunnel than to worry about having to to confront the kind of traffic that we've suffered through year after year.

I saw someone on Twitter call this underground tunnel idea, the "Wave 2.0" referring to the Wave streetcar project that was killed after years and years of working on it because the cost was simply going to be too much. And there were criticisms that it was outdated technology. That project was canceled after already costing taxpayers money. What can residents expect this time around? 

The Wave streetcar — the goal of that was not a transportation goal, it was an economic development goal. It was strictly driven by developers because they thought it was cool and it might bring millennials to the downtown area and thought that they would populate their buildings. But here we are today. Those buildings are being populated and we don't even have a Wave streetcar.

This leg that we are talking about from the downtown to the beach is only just part of a system. We would love to see this connected to a system that starts at the airport, goes to the seaport, then swing by the beach and then swing through the downtown and make a loop pattern throughout our city, which is really what this ultimately should turn into.

Why the tunnel makes more sense — because it anticipates the storm conditions. We are not subject be subjected to wind .. and the water, the increased rain and so forth, would be would be siphoned out through through a pump system and through a pipe system.

What will this tunnel cost? And how much of that is coming from taxpayers and how much of that is coming from Elon Musk's company? 

The details of the financing of it, we're not allowed to discuss because that's within the 45-day period as part of their proposal.

But I will say this, they can build these tunnels between $10 and $15 million a mile. So if we're looking at, say, a 2.5-mile tunnel out to the beach and then a 2.5-mile tunnel back. So if you're looking at, $15 million dollars per mile times five miles, is $75 million.

Then there's the construction of the of the stations at each end, so it could cost anywhere between, you know, $90 and $100 million to do this.

So where's the money coming from? One funding source we will look into is the one-cent sales tax that is designed strictly for transportation.

If the city says yes to this, when can the residents expect it to actually happen? Expect to actually be able to ride in this tunnel?

When the city of Fort Lauderdale has reached out to its community and has made the decision to go forward — and we've secured our funding sources — they can build this tunnel in less than a year.

Copyright 2021 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Caitie Switalski Muñoz