Does LA have tunnel vision?

DnA tours the construction site of the Downtown Regional Connector, as Elon Musk prepares to dig his own tunnel under Los Angeles.

There is a tunnel currently under construction 60 feet below Little Tokyo. It’s an S-shaped tube and it’s finished in curving concrete, parallelogram-shaped panels that are so elegantly arranged that Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti called it a “sexy tunnel.”

The Downtown Regional Connector will link the Expo, Blue and Gold Lines, shuttling passengers directly from Santa Monica to East L.A. or from Long Beach to Pasadena. It’s anticipated completion date is December 2021, later than originally projected.

“We ran into some initial complications. As you drill down in a place as complicated as downtown Los Angeles, the amount of pipes and wires and past work that had been done slowed us down a little at the beginning, but now we’re on track,” Garcetti said.

The tube is being created by a computer controlled machine that drills through the earth and then positions concrete rings in five foot segments. And all this is being done in a way that the project manager says creates very little ground movement.

Meanwhile, Elon Musk and his Boring Company are busy boring his own tunnel.

Musk has complained loudly about his own LA commute and has suggested various concepts for speeding it up. He once told DnA he wanted to put another deck over the 405. Now he is aiming for a “3D” tunnel network in which vehicles would be lowered down onto rails on an electric skate that would then shoot underground at about 130 miles per hour.

“There’s no real limit to how many levels of tunnel you can have,” Musk explained at a TED Talks event. “You can go much further deep than you can go up… so you can alleviate any arbitrary level of urban congestion with a 3-D tunnel network.”

Musk recently tweeted out an image of a stretch of tunnel under the parking lot of his company SpaceX in the city of Hawthorne.

He says it is 500 feet and should be two miles long in three or four months; and adds that it will hopefully stretch the whole 405 north-south corridor from LAX to the 101 in a year or so.

Is it a coincidence that if built — and it’s a big if since this project would involve multiple cities and jurisdictions — it would run conveniently near his own home in Bel Air?

A challenge Musk faces is how to get all the dirt out of the tunnel.

“One thing that people don’t recognize is the amount of material that’s mined. For every foot of advancement on the machine we generate 14 tons of dirt,” said Gary Baker, Metro’s project manager on the Downtown Regional Connector. “If we’re running at 150 feet a day you can imagine how many truckloads of material that is. That’s 300 trucks it takes every day to remove the material.”

But this is not the only Metro tunnel project in LA. Also in the pipeline are the Crenshaw/LAX Line and two segments of the Purple Line, running from downtown west towards Santa Monica.

“There is a lot of tunneling going on in L.A.,” Baker said. “If you’re a tunneling contractor, it’s a great opportunity to participate in what’s really a building boom in Los Angeles, not just underground but above ground.”