Why Elon Musk’s “government approval” to build a NY-to-DC hyperloop means almost nothing


Elon Musk just tweeted that he has “verbal government approval” to build a high-speed hyperloop tunnel that will take New York City residents to Washington, D.C., in 29 minutes. Not to totally drown your hopes and dreams, but there are a few foreseeable problems with that claim. Though The Washington Post reported that the White House confirms having “promising conversations” with Musk, we still might not find ourselves whizzing through high-speed tunnels anytime soon.

Musk’s tunnel-digging Boring Company (get it?) has been an interesting tale of spontaneity and rapid progress when it comes to construction. Musk has been working on the tech behind a hyperloop tunnel since December 2016, when he tweeted that traffic is “driving [him] nuts” and that he’s going to “just start digging.” Since then, Musk has unveiled his hyperloop as an “electric sled” that can allegedly carry cars on a lift at 125 mph, according to a post on his Instagram.

He claims that the government has verbally authorized the construction of a hyperloop tunnel between New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

But reality is going to make Musk’s plans more complicated than he thinks

Here’s the thing: If building massive amounts of transportation structure were as easy as “verbal government approval,” U.S. transportation probably wouldn’t be in its current state.

First and foremost, U.S. transit is a disaster. In the last two decades, the number of transit passengers in the U.S. has increased by about 33%, and yet there’s still a $90 billion backlog in maintenance and repairs, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Infrastructure Report Card.

Though subway systems are technically different from a futuristic, never-before-built tunnel system that carries cars across states like a bullet train, history has shown that major transportation projects are slow-moving and politically complicated in the United States.

Musk’s conversations with the Trump Administration aside, several governmental bodies at the city, state and federal level will likely have to get involved with the tunnel-building project.

In other words, sorry, but participation from all parties involved is a little harder to get than “verbal government approval.”

To be fair, even Musk anticipates that there are more rings to jump through. Nearly two hours after his original tweet announcing verbal government approval, Musk followed up with a tweet stating, “Still a lot of work needed to receive formal approval, but am optimistic that [it] will occur rapidly.”