Elon’s Tunnel Under The Sepulveda Pass


Screenshot courtesy of Metro LA

The internet has been abuzz with Elon Musk’s recent proclamation that he will dig a tunnel under the 405 (the busiest freeway in the US) to ease his brutal commute from Bel Air to Hawthorne. While most writers, even ours, are as knowledgable about boring tunnels as Elon is, there are some folks in LA who know all there is to know on boring tunnels, and thanks to the wise voters of Los Angeles, they’re spending our sales tax dollars making traffic a thing of the past.

I spoke with Metro LA’s Dave Sotero, who gave me all the dirt on digging under LA, particularly under the Sepulveda PassThis story explains a bit more about mass transit in LA, with a nifty gif of her present and future rail lines. The black one includes the tunnel Elon and 330,000 other people want.

G2: So I take it you’ve heard that Elon Musk wants to dig a tunnel under the 405 to make his commute easier. That can’t be cheap, even for a billionaire.

Dave: Thanks to Measure M, there will be more funding for this, but it’s still a very expensive proposal. 50% could come from federal funding if it meets federal criteria, like the purple line extension does.

G2: Can we even count on federal funding for anything that doesn’t support oil companies with the incoming administration?

Dave: This funding could potentially disappear under the incoming administration. Federal funding on transit has been dwindling over past years, causing a lot of other cities to struggle with maintenance costs. We are better funded than a lot of cities thanks to Measure R and now Measure M. (Both draw from sales taxes within LA county.)

G2: What is Metro’s master plan for the Sepulveda Pass? When will you begin building the tunnel Elon wants? 

Dave: We haven’t yet begun the planning process for Sepulveda Pass. We’d like it to tie in with the Orange line extension and the Purple line extension. Our long term goals could possibly involve tunnels but would require partnership with private industry (ahem, Elon) because that would help it happen faster. There are many different ways to share construction, ownership, operation of a transportation facility. We have already received some unsolicited proposals that we’re considering.

The 405 on a light traffic day. Photo courtesy of Luke Jones via flickr CC

If you build it, they will come

Dave also told me the most attractive option would be a tunnel which shares with cars, but that it would be cheaper to do a transit-only tunnel. As we learned from the 5-year, $1.1 billion project that widened the 405 to fit 15% more cars, there are now at least 15% more cars using it, so commute times are actually worse. So realistically, if a transit-only tunnel carried 20% of those people (say, to LAX, the hottest destination on the 405), then Elon wouldn’t even need to go underground to enjoy a faster commute.

Digging a tunnel that works for ICE vehicles is harder than digging one strictly for electric rail, just considering the ventilation problems alone. Ask anyone who’s commuted into Manhattan from New Jersey if they enjoy driving through the Lincoln Tunnel with the windows down.

Of course it’d probably be even cheaper to do an elevated rail line, but there’s no way these people would allow that. They barely allowed the freeway to be widened for a carpool lane! Dave also explained that it’s a 10 mile segment we’re talking about, which is a long way to dig a tunnel. Tunnels in LA tend to be shorter due to a lot of factors.

I’d sure like to share my mornings with this guy…

The Nikola Tesla Line

Some people may think it’s tacky to have corporate sponsorship naming rights of metro lines & stations, but come on. If it means a return to 1980 traffic volume by 2025, so what? Digging tunnels that meet earthquake safety code, under a city, is not cheap. So if you want to get to work faster, Elon, either consider a jetpack, or purchasing naming rights to the Metro line you and 330,000 others need most. This 2012 article suggests the same- private investment makes things happen a lot faster.


About the Author

Susanna is passionate about anything fast and electric. As long as it's only got two wheels. She covers electric motorcycle racing events, test rides electric motorcycles, and interviews industry leaders. Occasionally she deigns to cover automobile events in Los Angeles for us as well. However, she dreams of a day when Los Angeles' streets resemble the two-wheeled paradise she discovered living in Barcelona and will not rest until she's converted the masses to two-wheeled bliss.
  • Jim Smith

    I hope there is no federal funding for this. Let CA taxpayers pay for their own roads.

    • Roads? Do you see anything here about roads? It’s a Metro tunnel.

      And we’ll happily forego the 50% federal funding if we can stop subsidizing oil companies with our federal income taxes.

      • Jim Smith

        “Dave also told me the most attractive option would be a tunnel which shares with cars, but that it would be cheaper to do a transit-only tunnel. ”

        from the article. But you are right, no federal money should be spent on California rails either. It should be paid for by those who use it in California.

        I am all for eliminating all federal subsidies.

  • Guy Hall

    What about Appalachian Development Highway Program, the Pennsylvania Turnpike and tunnels, Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, the Fort McHenry Tunnel in Baltimore, Boston’s Big Dig, the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and countless more funded in whole or part by the federal government (all of us). Are you in, is there even a state that hasn’t received this type of funding? California pays more into the federal government funds for these than it gets back. Many other states get more than they put in.

    • Jim Smith

      There should be ZERO federal funding for roads or rail anywhere. It is clearly a state issue.

      • Steve Hanley

        So much for the Interstate highway system that is credited with powering the expansion of the American economy in the latter half of the 20th century!

        • Jim Smith

          that all could have been done with ZERO federal involvement.

          • Steve Hanley

            I respectfully disagree.

          • kevin mccune

            Could have Jim , but things of this magnitude very seldom are funded by the private sector , plus the bureaucratic red tape .

      • Yet federal funding of dying industries is totally cool as long as it can buy a CEO a job as Secretary of State, right?

        • Jim Smith

          try to keep up. Note my preference for ZERO federal funding of any industry.

  • Burnerjack

    Just a thought here: Wouldn’t it be cheaper and easier if Elon just moved to Hawthorne?

  • Ray

    When is the public going to wake up to the fact that are excellent road network has never been properly priced. The 405 is a tremendous asset, yet it’s given away for next to nothing. Start pricing the road network according to its real value, and people will start appreciating its usefulness. Once we add congestion-based road pricing, we will see many on-demand shared-ride vehicle services develop to offer a congestion free ride to your destination. Rail transit will also make more sense to fill the gaps where the road network is in too high demand. Right now, stupidity is driving our transportation network improvements, instead of simple economics.