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Vicky Warren feels like she’s been attacked from all sides lately. Across the street from her rental apartment in the working-class Los Angeles County city of Hawthorne, noisy planes take off and land at all hours, diverted to the local municipal airport from wealthier Santa Monica, where neighbor complaints have restricted air traffic. On the other side of her apartment, cars on the 105 Freeway sound the frustration of L.A. traffic. She’s even getting assailed within her walls: Termites have invaded so completely that she can’t keep any food uncovered. Flea bites cover her legs; rats are aggressively attacking the boxes she has stored in her garage.
So Warren was disappointed, but not surprised, to learn that invaders are coming from underground, too. She lives on 120th Street, where 40 feet underground Elon Musk’s Boring Company is building a 14-foot-wide, mile-long tunnel to pilot a futuristic transit system untested anywhere in the world. When it’s finished in December, the tunnel will start at the nearby headquarters of SpaceX, Musk’s aerospace company, and end a few blocks past Warren’s apartment. “We’re just sandwiched in between so much already,” Warren told me, shaking her head.
Musk sees the future of American transportation in tunnels like this one. Inside them, electric skates would whisk cars and pods containing passengers to their destinations; eventually, tunnels could also be used for a “hyperloop,” which would transport people even faster through a network of low-pressure tubes. Musk has pledged to revolutionize tunneling technology, and says that digging 40 feet underground will make less noise than someone walking on the surface would. Musk fans and mayors love the idea—the Boring Company told me a new city makes contact daily—and municipalities like Hawthorne have been quick to approve the tunneling. But aboveground, where the poverty rate is 19.2 percent and the median household income is $45,089, people like Warren struggle to meet basic housing needs. They know nothing about Elon Musk or his dreams.
Even if Musk is building world-changing transportation underneath Hawthorne, and even if the residents ultimately welcome the technology, he is undertaking this project with strikingly little public input or oversight.
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