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Bertha machine in December 2015
The Bertha tunneling machine’s passage beneath downtown Seattle has been anything but boring. (WSDOT Photo via Flickr)

Elon Musk, the billionaire CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, insists he’s really going to build a tunnel-boring machine to do something about road traffic. But should he?

Never say never when it comes to Musk doing something about the things that bug him. He founded SpaceX, a company that’s revolutionizing the rocket business, when he couldn’t find a cheap ride for a mission to Mars.

Three years ago, he came up with the Hyperloop concept for near-supersonic land travel out of frustration with California’s costly plan for a rapid-transit system that’s not that rapid.

Now it’s tunnels:

Truth to tell, this isn’t the first time Musk has brought up the idea. In January, Musk told attendees at a college Hyperloop project that building more tunnels would be a “simple and obvious” way to address transportation gridlock.

“Tunnels are great. It’s just a hole in the ground. It’s not that hard. But if you have tunnels in cities you would massively alleviate congestion, and you could have tunnels at all different levels. You could probably have 30 layers of tunnels and completely fix the congestion problem in high-density cities. So I strongly recommend tunnels.”

But as we know all too well, it’s not that easy to dig a tunnel: The mammoth boring machine known as Bertha has been at it for more than three years beneath downtown Seattle, battling through a breakdown and a sinkhole. Anticipated cost is more than $3 billion.

Meanwhile, New York is just about to open a new subway tunnel that’s been nearly 45 years in the making – and start another multibillion-dollar train tunnel project that’s likely to disrupt the region’s traffic for years to come.

There are already a wide array of boring companies out there, which comes in contrast to the near-monopoly situation that existed for the U.S. launch industry. One venture even calls itself “The Boring Company” and has the internet domain name to back it up (although its website isn’t anywhere near fleshed out).

You could argue that autonomous vehicles will solve the congestion problem long before 30 layers of tunnels are built beneath the nation’s cities, just as you could argue that better solar arrays and better batteries will solve the energy problem before nuclear fusion goes commercial. Both those frontiers are higher priorities on Musk’s agenda.

Musk might well follow up on his tunnel talk with some concepts that others could run with, as is the case with the Hyperloop. Or it could be one of many ideas he has on his long-term agenda, such as the development of a vertical-takeoff electric airplane.

But between getting settlers to Mars and revolutionizing solar power and electric transportation, it looks as if Musk has enough to focus on for the next decade or so. Besides, if you’re looking for ideas that are completely out of the box, you can always follow Bored Elon Musk on Twitter:

Here are a few more reactions to Musk’s latest brainstorm:

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