March 2021
Tunneling our way to the future
Our community has faced great challenges over the years, but none so debilitating as the COVID-19 pandemic. We have worked together, shared together and held together. We should be proud that our community responded in such a valiant way.

As we emerge from the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, we witness our continuing efforts to rebuild our infrastructure. We have laid miles of underground pipes to address our sewage problems, we have begun the enormous task of bringing marine and wildlife back to our canals and waterways, and we are poised to rebuild our water treatment plant that provides the main water supply to our homes and businesses. COVID did not stop us.

But other problems that we discussed prior to COVID did not go away either. With businesses and schools reopening, cars are returning to our streets and highways in great numbers, so the need for traffic solutions has never been greater.

As part of this discussion, the Florida Department of Transportation has been working with the Brightline folks about implementing additional trains on their existing tracks to create a commuter system. But let’s face it, adding more trains will only frustrate boat and vehicular traffic on our main roads. FDOT thinks we should just build a bridge through our city.

But we have a better idea.

We've made some amazing progress over the last month in investigating the feasibility of building an underground tunnel for commuter rail service into downtown.

This represents an exciting possibility that could dramatically reshape the future of downtown Fort Lauderdale as well as resolve the long-standing traffic problems. And even more importantly, there is the possibility that the project could be done for a substantially lower cost than imagined.

In mid-February, I led a delegation of city, county, and railroad officials to visit the latest venture of business entrepreneur Elon Musk. Musk first built his reputation around developing the Tesla electric car and then aerospace transportation with SpaceX. Now, he is looking at ways to reduce traffic congestion by offering new low-cost tunneling construction technology with The Boring Co.

Our delegation flew west. First, to Las Vegas, to view Boring's premiere project, a two-mile state-of-the-art loop under their Convention Center. Then to Hawthorne, CA, to visit the company's headquarters and experience their first operable test tunnel. 
In Las Vegas, we met with the head of the city's Public Works Department, the CEO of the region's tourism bureau, and Boring Co. executives. All around, we received positive reports on the role that the Boring Co. has played in bringing Las Vegas transit into the future.

Vegas officials have been so impressed by the ingenuity and cost of this technology that they are now working with Musk to build an entire underground transit system that will run the length of the Vegas strip, all the way from the old downtown to their international airport, a system over 16 miles long.

They also addressed critical questions about these tunneling capabilities. For instance, the water table in Vegas around the convention center is very near the surface, so most of the work was done through water -- very similar to the circumstances we would face with a train tunnel through downtown Fort Lauderdale.

Next, we traveled to the Boring Co.'s California headquarters to experience the prototype tunnel used for Las Vegas. We experienced being launched through the tunnel in a Tesla vehicle at roughly 125 m.p.h. We also met with Musk's chief geologist and viewed the state-of-the-art boring device that tunnels through the earth.

Each member of our delegation came home with excitement around this new technology and what it could mean for the future of transportation in our region.

In early March, city officials and community stakeholders joined me in welcoming principal members of the Boring Company to Fort Lauderdale to provide them with an in-depth look at our city.

The day began at the Brightline station, where we kicked off discussions about the possibility of tunneling the commuter rail service from the Brightline station downtown to the beach. We envision that this terminal, off of Broward Boulevard, could be a key connector for underground transport, not just between the beach and downtown but also from downtown to the airport and seaport.
We continued the delegation's tour through the entertainment district, Las Olas Boulevard, and the barrier island. A solution to the outstanding traffic congestion from the boulevard to the beach could lay in the opportunity to tunnel. We also raised questions to their team about the possibilities of tunneling to replace aging neighborhood bridges. We observed Port Everglades and the convention center from a distance to demonstrate how tunneling could connect these two hubs to the international airport.

At our next stop, we examined the traffic of one of Florida's busiest intersections and perhaps our most infamous, Sunrise Boulevard and Federal Highway.

The Florida Department of Transportation is currently drafting a plan to address the unique congestion plaguing the intersection.

They propose the construction of an east-to-north overpass along with a roundabout. Under this scenario, the project would allow motorists headed north on Federal Highway to drive above the traffic that runs to and from the beach. A possible solution to this intricate design may be to tunnel rather than to build an imposing bridge.

Remember: these conversations initially began because Brightline will relaunch their tri-county commuter service later this year and is set to expand operations up and down the east coast of the state.

The benefits of efficient commuter rail could finally free up our roadways. But, add too many trains above ground in Fort Lauderdale, and you create a new set of problems. Bridges would be down more frequently, critically impeding maritime traffic flow, meaning more delays at railway crossings as more trains would be added to the daily schedules. And just think about guard gates being lowered over 50 times a day along Sunrise, Broward and Davie Boulevards.

Tunnels make sense for the longevity of Fort Lauderdale.

Musk's cutting-edge technology exists, it is already being taken advantage of across the country, and it's shaping the way we look at transportation infrastructure in America. I am hopeful that our region will come together and harness this technology to better all of us.

Our talks with The Boring Company continue.

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Mayor Trantalis works with city staff to produce a video encouraging Spring Break visitors to follow COVID-19 regulations.
Mayor Trantalis opens Fort Lauderdale's newest fire station, Station 8, to boost coverage in the southern part of the city.
Mayor Trantalis tours the renovation work underway at the historic Parker Playhouse that will enhance the theatrical experience.