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The future of the O’Hare Express looks bleak

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Elon Musk’s ambitious Chicago project is running short on time and political support

A rendering showing the automated electric “pods” that would wisk passengers between the Loop and O’Hare airport in as little as 12 minutes.
The Boring Company

As outgoing Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel ties up legacy-defining loose ends such as Lincoln Yards and a new police training academy, a question mark still looms over his proposed high-speed O’Hare tunnel from Elon Musk’s Boring Company.

The city and Musk are still negotiating a contract for the project, something Emanuel had hoped to push through the Chicago City Council before he departs office in May. Mayoral runoff candidates Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle have expressed concerns about the need for such a project as well as doubt that it can be built for $1 billion and without taxpayer funds.

Last week, 9th Ward Alderman Anthony Beale expressed his own concerns about prioritizing the 100-mph O’Hare tunnel before the city delivered on its long-discussed promise to extend the CTA’s Red Line south to 130th Street.

“I never said the O’Hare Express was dead,” the alderman told Streetsblog Chicago. “I did say that, if we’re looking for federal funding, the biggest priority is the Red Line extension. If Mr. Musk would like to fund this thing totally off of his own personal checkbook, and it has no impact on our city resources, then that’s a different story.”

Former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told the Chicago Sun-Times that he couldn’t see Musk’s O’Hare Express happening. The “expensive,” “complicated” plan was a “pipe dream” from the start and the environmental impact study alone “will take years” to complete, said LaHood.

Musk’s proposed tunnel also faces growing opposition from newly elected City Council members. “This project seems mostly for tourists and Musk’s reputation, and I’m not sure it would be a good investment for the city,” said 1st Ward Alderman Elect Daniel La Spata to the Verge. “It’s a distraction from the real transportation needs of the city.”

It may be too early to call the O’Hare Express project dead, but the odds of its success appear to be dwindling. Meanwhile the Boring Company has pitched similar projects to other cities including tunnels serving the Las Vegas Convention Center, LA’s Dodgers Stadium, and a connection between Washington, D.C. and Maryland.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Elon Musk present the O’Hare Express project from the unfinished Block 37 station in June.
Getty Images