February 2021
Vegas-LA trip underway
to investigate tunnel for commuter rail
Today, I will be leading a group of South Florida officials on an important trip to investigate whether it would be feasible to build an underground tunnel for commuter rail service to transit our downtown.

This represents an exciting possibility that could dramatically reshape the future growth of downtown as well as resolve long-standing traffic problems. And even more importantly, there is the chance that the project could be done for substantially less than anyone ever imagined.

We will be visiting the latest venture of business entrepreneur Elon Musk. Musk first built his reputation around the development of the Tesla electric car and then space transportation. Now, he is looking at ways to reduce traffic congestion by offering new low-cost tunneling construction technology.

Among those joining me on the trip are City Manager Chris Lagerbloom; my chief of staff, Scott Wyman; Broward County Vice Mayor Michael Udine; the county’s rail expert; Miami Mayor Francis Suarez; Husein Cumber, a high-ranking executive in Florida East Coast Railroad’s business arm; the railroad’s rail infrastructure expert; and its tunneling consultant.

How did this all start?

Well, Brightline is set to relaunch their commuter service between Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach later this year. They are expanding the service to include more stops. At the same time, there has been revived interest in jump-starting the long-planned Coastal Commuter Link. The Coastal Commuter Link would include many additional local stops in the tri-county region with frequent service.

The benefits of the commuter service would be significant.

A person could catch a train in Oakland Park and go to the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport for a flight out of town, someone in Pompano Beach could take the train to the Aventura Mall, or someone living in Boca Raton could commute to work in Hollywood by train. Of course, Fort Lauderdale would be at the center of it all with our downtown rail station.

But there are some challenges created by commuter rail.

With dozens of additional trains running along the FEC corridor every day, a crucial choke point would occur at the New River. Easy river navigation is important to our marine industry because many boatyards are located west of the railroad’s river crossing, and the marine industry is a critical part of our economy.

The current low-rise train bridge would be used so frequently that many in our marine industry would suffer great financial harm as their businesses would become largely inaccessible.

The initial suggestion was to build a new high-rise bridge for the commuter rail service. Imagine a bridge like the 17th Street Causeway cutting through our downtown. History has shown that communities suffer when such decisions are made. Many are now trying to undo that harm.

A bridge would cleave our downtown in two just as it is undergoing a transformative redevelopment into a modern urban center. In addition, the site of the proposed joint county-city government campus would sit hard against the bridge, damaging its potential as an iconic centerpiece of a revitalized downtown.

Our historic district would be obscured in the shadows of the train trestles running overhead. Fort Lauderdale’s historic minority community surrounding Sistrunk Boulevard would be split off from the eastside just as community redevelopment efforts are creating a renaissance there and linking it with the growing Flagler Village neighborhood.

Skeptics said a tunnel would cost billions and take decades to come to fruition. They claimed it was essentially a deal-killer to the idea of commuter rail. They told us that we should accept a bridge for the greater good – maybe with some beautification elements thrown in to mollify us.

Then along came Elon Musk.

He changed the entire outlook of what is possible when he announced he was interested in building tunnels in South Florida to alleviate traffic. Rather than billions of dollars and decades of work, his company has touted it can produce tunnels in a matter of months at a minuscule fraction of the cost.

His firm, The Boring Co., built a demonstration underground transit line near his SpaceX headquarters in California in 2018. The single-tunnel, 1.1-mile loop cost $10 million. He later won a contract with the Las Vegas Convention Center to build a two-tunnel loop to span its vast campus. The 1-mile network cost $52 million.

Las Vegas expected to begin using it for the highly attended Consumer Electronics Show in January, but COVID-19 prompted the show to be held virtually and they now are waiting for convention business to re-start. Impressed by the initial convention center loop, officials there now see it as part of a much larger underground transit network spanning the entirety of Las Vegas’ entertainment areas.

We’ve already had a couple initial conversations with The Boring Co., and they are interested in helping us address our situation. They stand by their numbers, and officials at the Florida East Coast Railroad are as intrigued as we are. The Boring Co. says the lower cost is another example of Musk thinking outside traditional norms, just as he reduced the costs of space flight with such innovations as reusable rockets.

His tunneling technology could be a real game-changer for us regarding transportation and quality of life.

Not only would it allow commuter rail to move forward and solve the New River issue, but we could tunnel the system under major Fort Lauderdale intersections to relieve congestion on our roadways. Think of the end of tie-ups because of trains on Davie Boulevard, Broward Boulevard and Sunrise Boulevard and maybe even NE 13th Street.

Then, imagine other possibilities where tunneling for transit could help South Florida traffic. What about reviving a commuter service between western suburbs and downtown Fort Lauderdale, for instance?

So we’re going to visit the Las Vegas loop and the California test tunnel and have in-depth conversations with the experts at The Boring Co. These meetings will include not just their executives but their geologists and operations managers. We also will meet with Las Vegas officials and their experts – the people who hired The Boring Co. and those who oversaw the completion of the Loop.

We hope that the next step will be for The Boring Co. team to come to Fort Lauderdale and see how we think their technology could be put to work. The possibilities are definitely worth pursuing further. We could be tunneling our way into the future.


Mayor Trantalis and the Fraternal Order of Police sponsor lunch for the frontline workers and officers working at the Snyder Park COVID-19 vaccination site.
Mayor Trantalis greets students at the city's new joint-use playground at Bennett Elementary School.
Mayor Trantalis and Commissioner Ben Sorensen help open SALT7 at the Icon building along Riverwalk.
Mayor Trantalis participates in the ribbon-cutting of the Baer Family Early Childhood Learning Center.
Mayor Trantalis helps open Hotel Maren and its Riviera restaurant on Fort Lauderdale's beach.
Mayor Trantalis helps open the Haytt Centric hotel at the iconic 100 Las Olas tower in downtown Fort Lauderdale.
Mayor Trantalis remembers those who died in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High three years ago.