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Boring Company transit tunnels
Elon Musk’s vision calls for building networks of underground tunnels to get around surface street congestion. (Boring Company Illustration)

The Boring Company, created by billionaire Elon Musk to revolutionize the market for tunnels and flamethrowers, is one of four ventures to put in bids to build a high-speed transit system between downtown Chicago and O’Hare International Airport.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel listed the respondents on Wednesday in a news release, and said the next step will be to determine which of the ventures are truly qualified to build, finance, operate and maintain the O’Hare Express.

The system is required to run shuttles every 15 minutes or less, with a downtown-to-airport transit time of no more than 20 minutes, for a fare that’s less than the cost of current taxi and rideshare services.

The Chicago Infrastructure Trust leaves it to the bidders to come up with the best way to make that happen. It could be by sending electric-powered pods through underground tunnels, which is the likeliest course for The Boring Company. But the system also could make use of above-ground tracks.

Most importantly, the project isn’t supposed to require taxpayer funding. Instead, the selected company would self-finance construction and operation, supported by fares, advertising and other private revenue sources.

That’s a big reason why only four teams ended up responding to Chicago’s call for proposals.

“Four visionary groups have stepped forward because they see what we see – a connected Chicago is a stronger Chicago,” Emanuel said. “Strengthening connections between the economic engines of downtown Chicago and O’Hare airport will build on Chicago’s legacy of innovation and pay dividends for generations to come.”

In addition to The Boring Company, the respondents include:

  • Oaktree Capital Management, a Los Angeles-based investment firm that was once the largest shareholder in Tronc, which owns the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and other media properties.
  • O’Hare Express Train Partners, a consortium that includes OHL Infrastructure, Kiewit and Amtrak.
  • O’Hare Express LLC, which brings together Meridiam, Antarctica Capital, JLC Infrastructure, Mott MacDonald and First Transit.

The Chicago Infrastructure Trust and city officials will evaluate the teams’ responses, determine which of them are qualified to proceed, and then issue a request for proposals to the qualified bidders.

The Boring Company is arguably the least experienced of the three teams, but it’s making quick headway: It’s been extending a test tunnel that starts at SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., and is projected to continue beneath Los Angeles. It also has an agreement with Maryland officials to work on a transit tunnel between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

For what it’s worth, The Boring Company has also sold millions of dollars’ worth of caps and flamethrowers, boosted by Musk’s marketing skills.

The word from Chicago adds to a busy week for Musk: In addition to being the founder of The Boring Company, he’s the CEO of SpaceX, which launched its first Falcon Heavy rocket on Tuesday. And as the CEO of Tesla, he presided over a review of quarterly and year-end financial results that was highlighted by record red ink and continuing production snags for the Tesla Model 3 electric car.

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