Rahm Emanuel, the former mayor of Chicago, is rumored to be president-elect Joe Biden’s pick for Secretary of Transportation, according to a new report from Axios. But Emanuel would be a very weird choice for the position, not only because the longtime political operative has quite a list of political scandals. One of Emanuel’s few “accomplishments” in the area of transportation was hosting a press conference with billionaire Elon Musk to announce a futuristic-sounding project of underground tunnels that never happened.
“It will take longer to get through security at O’Hare than to get to O’Hare,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel proudly declared on June 14, 2018 during a press conference with Elon Musk at his side.
That promise hinged on Musk’s plan to install an underground “Loop” transportation system in Chicago between O’Hare Airport and downtown that was supposed to use 16-passenger vehicles traveling over 100 miles per hour in tunnels underground.
The press conference was quite a spectacle, with Emanuel hosting Musk and proudly announcing the billionaire founder of SpaceX would be bringing futuristic transportation options to the Windy City through Musk’s tunnel-digging corporation, the Boring Company. And Musk even promised to start work quickly.
“We expect to start drilling later this year, perhaps as soon as three or four months,” Musk said. “And we’ll start drilling from both the station side and the airport side.”
Again, that was in June of 2018. Musk planned to make the project happen through private investment, insisting behind the scenes that the entire thing might cost just $1 billion. The Boring Company said riders would pay between $20-$25 per ride, roughly half the cost of an Uber for the roughly 18 miles to the airport, and taxpayers wouldn’t have to put up a single penny.
Admittedly, it looked pretty impressive on paper, including a rendering of what a Loop station in downtown Chicago was supposed to look like, as well as an animated concept video of the vehicles in action.
Those 16-passenger vehicles were supposed to be completely autonomous, electric, and utilize a new unexplained technology to “skate” along an underground track. The Boring Company even bragged on its website that vehicles “will leave each station as frequently as every 30 seconds,” and claimed the system would operate “20 hours per day, every day of the week.” The Boring Company has since deleted the Chicago project from its website.
The animated video of Musk’s vehicles looked like something out of Tron with neon-blue light and a comfortable descent into an underground world of futuristic bliss. Storytellers of the 1950s, the same people who promised flying cars and jetpacks, would’ve been very proud, if only because Musk didn’t deliver on his techno-utopian promise either.
As you might recall, Musk’s promises of a revolutionary technology quickly disintegrated later in 2018. The Boring Company built a short tunnel in Los Angeles for a public demonstration that was embarrassingly pathetic. Musk assembled the press in December to show off his latest technological feat, but reporters on the ground were unimpressed.
The futuristic looking vehicles were gone, replaced with plain Tesla cars. And the autonomous capabilities were gone as well, replaced with human drivers. Musk had invented... a car driving in a tunnel.
“The Model X rolled on two molded concrete shelves along the wall, which were so uneven in places that it felt like riding on a dirt road,” a reporter from the Los Angeles Times wrote at the time.
There were many excuses from Musk and promises that something much more impressive was around the corner. But it never happened. At least not in Chicago.
The O’Hare line just fizzled into memory and Rahm Emanuel never had to answer for his bizarre spectacle of vaporware. Musk, for his part, is still building a tunnel for the Las Vegas Convention Center, but it’s unclear when that project might be completed. And even if it does get finished, the result will almost certainly be underwhelming. The so-called “Convention Center Loop” is just a Tesla in a tunnel that might ultimately carry just 800 people an hour, according to the Verge, even if things work out perfectly.
Will Rahm Emanuel be the worst White House cabinet member in history if he’s nominated by Biden and confirmed by the Senate? Of course not. After Donald Trump’s disastrous presidency, Biden could nominate a moldy loaf of bread and still look half competent. But we should probably aspire to a higher standard than Trump’s four years of gross malfeasance, blatant self-dealing, and criminal incompetence.
The Biden White House can do better than Rahm, a man who, among other things, tried to cover up the murder of teenager Laquan McDonald at the hands of the police. Broken promises and embarrassing vaporware are certainly less egregious than a murder coverup, but if the failed Loop is one of his only qualifications for Transportation Secretary, maybe Biden should look elsewhere.