Chicago Alderman Gilbert Villegas had high expectations for his test drive in mid-December with The Boring Company's experimental "Tesla-in-a-Tunnel" technology. It would be the first time that Villegas had the opportunity to explore the system that would bring The Boring Company to Chicago.
In June, Elon Musk, CEO of Boring Company, pledged that Chicago was an invented method of underground mass transit. He dug a couple of kilometers of tunnels between downtown Loop and O & Hare International Airport, shooting electric-powered passenger capsules at up to 1
The so-called O'Hare Express project sounded like science fiction material, and for Villegas it still is. The inauguration of the former Navy and Gulf War veteran on a retrofitted Tesla Model X in a kilometer-long tunnel in Southern California ended at 40 mph and was bumpy. He described the ride as uneven, like the feeling of driving a car on a dirt road. "It was not as smooth as I had imagined," said Villegas The Verge . "It was definitely too experimental for someone to invest $ 1 billion."
There is still no contract between The Boring Company and the Chicago Infrastructure Trust (the nonprofit association that was founded by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to organize public-public partnerships on behalf of the US government city), which in turn Federal environmental regulations slow down. Even if a deal is soon to be fought, he has to cross the desk of a city council recently shaken by a federal corruption scandal, and this does not seem to be the reason to make big projects greener. This is a problem for Musk with the mayoral elections of February 26 in the city and almost all 14 candidates wanting to replace Emanuel, against the plan of O'Hare Express.
In the meantime, Musk and Emanuel and other stakeholders are publicly silent about the project. Neither Shannon Breymaier, Emanuel's communications director, nor Sam Teller, director of the office of the CEO of The Boring Company, sent an e-mail requesting comments. The Chicago Infrastructure Trust did not answer a number of requests sent through its website, and Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Michael Claffey said his office was too busy working on a rift in the bridge on Lake Shore Drive , to answer. up email.
Last week during a public hearing some members of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) said They were worried that too many details of Musk's plan were missing to justify the approval. That's the catch, says CMAP committee member Frank Beal: The Boring Company and the city can not sign a contract until the NEPA process is complete, but without further plans from Musk, the NEPA process could come to a standstill.
This bureaucratic complication is yet another sign that Musk's O & # 39; Hare Express is a vision. Some local officials and observers are already talking about the project as if it were dead.
"I would be shocked if a traction moves," says Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, a Chicago councilman whose 35th district is in the proposed path of the Boring Company's tunnel, "For me, it has always been a pipe dream, a fantasy flight, but my opinion of it has gotten worse since I lost all read many of these details in the media, many stories that cast doubt on [Musk’s] 's ability to do so, and if you look at Elon Musk's career, he is a true witness. "
Ramirez Rosa has long been an outspoken critic of Emanuel and the O & # 39; Hare Express project, but nowadays even some of Emanuel's allies in Council like it cool.
"I'm still analyzing and researching," says Villegas. "I think it might be a great thing for the city, but at the same time we want to protect the taxpayers."
In June, Musk said he had opted for Chicago The first "publicly useful" Boring Company companies should be hosted: "The number of approval agencies is low."
He had reason to believe that he was automatically approved by one of these agencies – the Chicago City Council. Musk bromance with Emanuel is strong. At his joint press conference in Chicago last June, mayor Musk praised "as one of the great visionaries of our time" and jokingly asked for shares in Boring Company.
Emanuel's decision not to seek re-election (he refrains from writing a book on why mayors rule the world) is catastrophic for Musk's "Hare Express." Bear in mind that during his nine-year reign, Emanuel has lost neither one vote of council nor vetoed it. Dick Simpson, a professor of political science at the University of Illinois in Chicago, described the Chicago government as a "councilor of stamps." Critics say Emanuel's power is not dark magic but dark money. His allies have spent millions of dollars on Super PAC money to elect him and his candidates.
However, there is clear evidence that Emanuel is losing his ability to tie the Council to his will in major projects. Last month, several Erlen men rejected a $ 6 billion plan supported by Emanuel that would have allowed a developer to turn a riverbank into an entertainment district with multiple venues owned and hosted by mega-promoter LiveNation Football stadium in front of the Ricketts family, owners of the Chicago Cubs.
There is one more factor that takes up the work of the City Council: scandal. The two powerful councilors Ed Burke and Danny Solis are involved in an investigation by the FBI about corruption – and both agree 100 percent with Emanuel. Following the scandal Emanuel dismissed Burke as CFO. The retired Solis has disappeared from the public in the past three weeks. Since then, the authorities have requested official action against government action until after the election of a new mayor and a new council, the council has been elected.
It is possible that Musk was able to successfully sell his futuristic tunnel to the 14 mayoral candidates, who will be competing in May as the successor to Emanuel. When they were asked for their opinion on O & # 39; Hare Express, the response of the future mayors of Chicago ranged from neutrality to open contempt.
"It will die alone. This thing is stupid, "said Chicago Public Schools former chairman Gery Chico during a candidate forum earlier this month, according to Chicago Tribune . Paul Vallas, another hopeful mayor, had tougher words: "I'll kill him," Vallas said, according to the Tribune . "I can not wait to kill it."
Vallas has downgraded since the murderous joy. "I am deeply skeptical that the airport express is feasible according to schedule and conditions, but I would like to prove [be] wrong as long as taxpayers are not at stake at all costs and fully compensate Mr. Musk the city for an unexpected damage that could cause its big dig, "he said The Verge in an email.
Mayor Bill Daley, who is closely linked to Emanuel and his politics, may be Musk's best hope. He is the brother of former mayor Richard Daley and – coincidentally – the man who replaced Emanuel as chief of staff of Barack Obama when he left the White House in 2010 to apply for mayor. But Daley's support also has reservations: "Chicago should not shy away from innovation, but we need to scrutinize costs, and we need to make sure that the tariff structure for the tunnel is scrutinized," says Daley ] The Verge about a speaker.
The Emanuel government seems to realize that time is of the essence. Rebekah Scheinfeld, commissioner of the Transportation Department of Chicago, is trying to urge the Council to approve a contract with Musk ASAP as soon as a contract with the administration is completed. If not, she says, Musk could drop Chicago. "We do not want this wasted," Scheinfeld told the Chicago Sun-Times (19459013). "I hope you will not let it sit idle and risk [Musk] going away if it's not approved in time."
For Alderman Ramirez-Rosa, that's too high a pressure sounding too close to a used car salesman tactic. "Chicago is a world-class city – a city with big plans," he says. "We have to dream big and do great things, but you also have to make sure you're doing well."
Or, as Villegas says, "Sometimes the best deal is the one you do not take."