Elon Musk Calls For RC To Ontario Airport Tunnel

Elon Musk has potentially rendered moot the yet unresolved differences between public officials on San Bernardino County’s extreme southeast corner and those virtually everywhere else in the expansive 20,105-square mile jurisdiction with regard to the mode of future transportation access to Ontario International Airport.
Musk, through one of his corporate holdings, the Boring Company, is proposing excavating a 2.8-mile underground tunnel linking Rancho Cucamonga to Ontario International Airport, and then using modified Tesla Model X electric vehicles to convey passengers through the tunnel at speeds reaching more than 100 miles per hour.
Musk, who initially earned his fortune as a cofounder of the on-line money exchange system PayPal, is the founder of the Tesla automobile company and the founder of the private sector space exploration company SpaceX.
Musk’s brainchild would serve as the final span in the transportation system that is intended to link Los Angeles with Ontario Airport. A significant portion of that yet-to-fully-achieved transportation mode – composed of a light rail system known as the Metro Gold Line – already stretches 24 miles eastward across Los Angeles County from Union Station to Azusa. The Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority Board in Los Angeles County has already committed to and is undertaking the further extension of that line to Pomona, which is very near Los Angeles County’s eastern terminus. From there, Los Angeles County transportation officials are working with their allies in San Bernardino County to make the continuation of the Gold Line all the way to Ontario Airport a reality, and at some future date extend the light rail line beyond that even further into San Bernardino County to San Bernardino or beyond that to Redlands or Yuciapa.
Over $1 billion has been expended extending the Gold Line, consisting of a light rail train on two separate tracks running generally east west, currently to Azusa. The track will reach Pomona by late 2025. Thereafter, the line was previously slated to be extended another 3.3 miles from Pomona through Claremont to Montclair at that city’s existing Montclair Transit Center. From there, the future intention was to extend it to Ontario Airport. According to the Gold Line Construction Authority, the extension of the line from north Pomona to Claremont will entail a cost of $450 million. Previously, the Gold Line Construction Authority in conjunction with the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority, when it was previously known as San Bernardino Associated Governments (SANBAG), intended to continue the line from Claremont to Montclair, and then from Montclair to Ontario Airport.
The San Bernardino County Transportation Authority, as its name implies, is San Bernardino County’s regional transportation agency. With a board composed of representatives from all 24 of the county’s cities as well as its five county supervisors, the agency, known by its acronym SBCTA, is charged with managing the expenditure of Measure I money. Measure I was first passed by San Bernardino County’s voters in 1989, providing for a half-cent sales tax override countywide, with the proceeds dedicated to paying for road improvements.
The San Bernardino County Transportation Authority dedicated $39 million in Measure I dollars toward the Gold Line project and did a joint application with the Los Angeles Metro Transit Agency for a State of California Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program grant. That application was successful and it brought in $250 million on the Los Angeles County side, which made a significant but not complete inroad on the $850 million funding deficit that jurisdiction had, and provided another $41 million of the then-projected $80 million cost for the San Bernardino County portion of the projected expense on the eastern side of the Los Angeles County/San Bernardino County boundary in terms of getting the line to Montclair.
Subsequently, however, when the project went out to bid, it turned out the cost of building the line from Claremont to Montclair would not contain itself to an earlier $73 million projection or the later $80 million estimate, but had escalated to $96 million.
In reaction to that projected cost overrun, San Bernardino County Transportation Authority Executive Director Ray Wolfe recommended last year that SBCTA “throw in the towel” on completing the Gold Line past the Los Angeles County/San Bernardino County border to reach the airport.
Wolfe noted that a commuter rail system running from Los Angeles County into San Bernardino County – MetroLink – already exists and that there is an existing freight-carrying rail line linking the two counties as well. He proposed that instead of building two new tracks that the county transportation agency simply run a passenger line on the existing freight line track, thereby saving both land acquisition and rail line construction costs. Advocates for the Gold Line, however, point out that the Gold Line runs with significantly greater frequency than does MetroLink, with departures and arrivals every five to seven minutes during peak commuting hours and every 12 to 15 minutes during off-peak hours. Metro Link trains runs at present no more frequently than every 72 minutes and on average no more frequently than an hour-and-a-half. Because of that, ridership on the MetroLink is relatively poor and Gold Line use is approaching capacity on its current schedule. If the goal of transitioning commuters from their automobiles to trains is to be effectuated, these advocates say, the Gold Line needs to be completed. Moreover, the riders’ cost of using the Gold Line is less than half that of using MetroLink, which first established service between Union Station in Los Angeles and the City of San Bernardino in 1992 on a long existing track originally designed for heavy engines pulling freight cars. MetroLink utilizes diesel engines to draw its passenger cars and must share its track with at least four freight trains on a daily basis. The Gold Line would be more environmentally sound, more utilized and economical, its sponsors insist.
In reaction to Wolfe’s call to pull the plug on the Gold Line concept in San Bernardino County, east-west factions formed in the jurisdiction. While officials in Chino Hills, Chino, Montclair and Ontario favor extending to the aerodrome the light rail system that has already been constructed to Azusa and which will reach Pomona in five years, virtually all of the rest of the county, practically meaning the remaining 20 incorporated municipalities, have flinched at expending the money that will be required to complete the Gold Line. Assemblyman Chris Holden (D-41st District) and State Senator Anthony J. Portantino, whose 25th District like Holden’s straddles both Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, are equally dismayed at what they perceive to be wrongheaded intransigence to regional cooperation intended to provide the foundation of what is to become the commuting methodology of the future. They introduced legislation aimed at providing financial mechanisms to complete the project. Holden’s Assembly Bill 2011 would create the West San Bernardino County Rail Construction Authority, an entity to be dedicated to designing and building the six-mile span of track linking Montclair to Ontario Airport. Portantino’s Senate Bill 1390 also calls for creating the Montclair-to-Ontario Airport Gold Line Construction Authority. Portantino’s bill is considered to be a refinement of Holden’s proposed legislation, one which would be more likely to achieve passage in the full legislature.
Without being asked to do so and acting entirely on his own initiative, Elon Musk had the Boring Company on April 29 provide the San Bernardino County Transportation Agency with a proposal to undertake the underground tunnel project, one that would either use, partially use or parallel the existing flood control channelization constructed decades ago by the Army Corps of Engineers, and run from a station near Foothill Boulevard and the Day Creek flood control channel to Terminal 2 at Ontario International Airport.
Musk calculated the project could be completed for $60 million, largely because the purchase and monopolization of above-ground real estate would be bypassed. No construction of a rail system or purchase of trains would be necessary. Off-the-shelf or adapted Tesla Model X vehicles would be used to provide transportation.
A Musk-owned company would run operate the system.
Next Wednesday, June 3, the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority’s board is to be guided by Carrie Schindler, the authority’s director of transit and rail programs, with regard to a consideration of whether the authority should spend $3 million to conduct an “alternatives analysis” to using rail systems to reach Ontario Airport. According to the staff report for the item, building the Gold Line to the airport “is estimated to cost between $1 billion and $1.5 billion in 2020 dollars, requir[ing] a large infusion of revenue that is unknown at this time.” Musk’s proposal, the report said, would cost far less. “The total estimated cost is expected to be substantially lower and in the range of 3-5% of the surface project cost,” the report states.
County transportation officials did not say whether the subsurface transportation option could be utilized to replace the Gold Line from Claremont to the airport or from Claremont to Rancho Cucamonga.
-Mark Gutglueck

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