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Kim Westerman
Today marks a historic moment for The Presidio Trust, the National Park Service, and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, as the Presidio Tunnel Tops project was formally launched this morning with a “groundmaking” ceremony to kick off the construction phase of this highly anticipated phase of the development of The Presidio.

Set to open in 2021, the ambitious Tunnel Tops project, designed by James Corner Field Operations (the firm behind New York’s High Line), will create an entirely new 14-acre park atop two freeway tunnels just east of Crissy Field. The new multi-use public park will have unparalleled views of the Golden Gate Bridge and, more importantly, it will re-connect the San Francisco waterfront to the Presidio Main Post, a passage that was broken some 80 years ago when Doyle Drive was built to create access to the Golden Gate Bridge.

Corner says, “This has been an extraordinary experience to create a new green centerpiece for the Presidio in the context of the larger Bay Area and the world-class city of San Francisco. The iconic setting is perfect for transforming highway infrastructure into a vibrant new public space.” The final design was informed by the input of more than 10,000 community members to ensure that residents would be happy about the ways in which their neighborhood would be transformed.

Funding efforts have been led by campaign co-chairs Lynne Benioff, Mark Buell, and Randi Fisher, along with the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.

When Tunnel Tops opens in 2021, it will include gardens with native vegetation, walking pathways, scenic overlooks, a campfire circle, picnic areas, and a three-acre interactive play area designed to connect urban kids with nature. The hope is that this “Youth Campus” will encourage environmental stewardship among the city’s youth population, setting in motion education and awareness about the state of our immediate environment and our planet, in general.

Younger kids will have access to “The Outpost,” a multi-sensory, inquiry-driven space for place-based learning and adventure. Geared toward toddlers up to age 13, The Outpost will also offer activities for teens involved in the youth mentorship programs run by the Crissy Field Center.

The Presidio is one of San Francisco’s most exciting neighborhoods right now. It has always been rich in history and a compelling area for hiking and other outdoor activities, but now it’s a full-blown destination for both day-trippers and visitors from afar, with excellent restaurants, museums, a new visitor center, a free shuttle, a brand-new theatre, and some of the most exciting programming in any U.S. city. Tunnel Tops will also be an impressive green space in the heart of urban San Francisco.

The park has 12 trails for hiking and biking, from wooded paths to coastal cliffside walks, each offering a different ambiance, length, and level of difficulty.

Two hotels — The Inn at the Presidio and The Lodge at the Presidio — are affordable and comfortable, a rarity in San Francisco these days.

To learn more about Tunnel Tops or to contribute during its construction phase, visit the project’s website.

Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority
On Wednesday, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) board is scheduled to vote on whether to approve a negotiated $48.7 million design-build contract with The Boring Co. to build a dual-tunnel people mover system at the Las Vegas Convention Center campus, but two board members, according to the Las Vegas Sun, are advocating for a different approach proposed by another bidder.

The Boring Co. beat out Austrian company Doppelmayr Garaventa Group in the Request for Proposals process, but board members Michele Fiore and Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman are encouraging other members to take a second look at Doppelmayr's bid, which would see the construction of a more traditional, above-ground system. Doppelmayr's original proposal was $215 million, but Goodman told the board that the company could perform the work for $85 million.

Goodman maintains that using the proven, 125-year-old Doppelmayr is a better bet than giving The Boring Co., which is three years old, a chance at its first significant project. Goodman has invited Doppelmayr to make a presentation at the May 22 meeting.

Steven Hill, board CEO and president, told the Sun that The Boring Co. won the project because of its low cost, the fact that it can be built while the $1.4 billion convention center renovation progresses above ground and that it can be expanded underground to other areas of the city in the future. In addition, as a condition of The Boring Co.'s contract, the company has agreed to reimburse the LVCVA in full via a payment recovery bond if the project does not receive a certificate of occupancy.

Back in June 2018, The Boring Co. also won the contract to build an express twin-tunnel transit system from downtown Chicago to O’Hare International Airport, promising a 12-minute trip courtesy of electric vehicles that would travel at speeds of at least 100 miles per hour.

But the city and The Boring Co. still haven't reached an agreement on the costs of the project nor on a schedule. In addition, while former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was a big supporter of the project, new Mayor Lori Lightfoot reportedly has been hesitant to endorse the new express system and has remarked that she doubts that the project could be 100% privately funded as promised.

In March, Musk made an informal announcement on his Twitter account that The Boring Co. was getting ready to unveil a new boring machine dubbed the Line-Storm. Followers of Musk's business ventures have been waiting since 2017 for the Line-Storm's official unveiling, but so far, it remains a mystery. ​
City of Ottawa
Sinkholes, winter-weary trains, and political upheaval have held the Confederation Line light-rail transit back from a seriously overdue opening.

Get ready for rail.”

At first the slogan for Ottawa’s new transit project felt like a command. Then it was a question mark, and now it’s a desperate plea—as if the city could will into existence a light-rail plan that has been talked about for the better part of 20 years.

Ground broke in 2013 on Ottawa’s extension of its O-Train system—then, a five-station, diesel-powered light-rail line. The mission was to electrify the network and extend it to central, eastern, and southern parts of the city with two new add-ons, the brand-new Confederation Line and the Trillium Line addition.

But it hasn’t gone so smoothly. After years of planning and waiting, some in Ottawa might feel like their rapid transit dreams are simply cursed. In 2014, two years after the CDN$2.1-billion project was officially approved by council, a sinkhole measuring 26 feet wide by 39 feet deep opened up near a tunneling site. Two years later on one of the city’s busiest streets, a second LRT tunnel-related sinkhole—this one 92 by 131 feet in area and 16 feet deep—swallowed a van.

And that’s just the sinkholes. The 7.7-mile Stage 1, known as the Confederation Line, has been consistently bedeviled by problems. Originally due in May 2018, It’s still not open yet. Instead, empty trains glide up and down the route for testing, taunting Ottawans who are most definitely #Ready4Rail. The new delivery date is “sometime before Canada Day,” on July 1.

The consortium tasked with building and delivering the LRT, the Rideau Transit Group (RTG), needs 12 consecutive days of near-flawless testing on all 34 of its Alstom Citadis Spirit train cars before it can release them into the wild. Just one issue with a car, though, and the 12 days restart. RTG has been testing the trains for months.

This past winter, after a train got stuck in the snow during a trial run, CBC reporter Joanne Chianello obtained internal reports that said the trains may not be able to withstand Ottawa’s cold, snowy winters. “Vehicles are currently unreliable to the point that it has not been demonstrated that operations can be sustained during a winter weather event,” one report read.

But that’s next winter’s problem. The day after Chianello’s CBC story, the city’s transportation general manager John Manconi told city councilors at a public meeting that RTG was looking forward to the end of winter to finish testing: “Better weather will certainly help.”

And then there’s Stage 2, a CDN$4.7-billion project and the city’s biggest procurement ever. A $1.6-billion slice of that project was awarded to SNC-Lavalin, an engineering and construction management firm currently facing charges of corruption and fraud. SNC-Lavalin is also a key member of the RTG consortium building the thrice-delayed Stage 1.

So, what the hell is happening with the LRT? “[Constituents] are exactly right to ask that question, because we don’t know the answer,” says Ottawa city councilor Rick Chiarelli.

Contracts, bids kept secret

Chiarelli, who has been an Ottawa city councilor since 1988, says the people tasked with running the city have been largely kept in the dark on the LRT project. In March, he voted against approving the $4.7-billion budget on Stage 2, saying that proper oversight had not been done on the project.
According to a new environmental review document, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is poised for a large expansion that could add up to two new terminals and nearly two dozen new gates to help handle the influx of travelers headed to the city for the 2028 Olympic Games.

Urbanize.LA reported that the plans call for attaching the new Concourse 0 terminal and its 11 passenger gates to the east of the existing Terminal 1 structure along the northern end of the LAX complex. A second new terminal, Terminal 9, will bring 12 new gates to the southern end of the airport, where it will be met by an extended run of a forthcoming automated people mover (APM) that is currently under construction.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the expansion plans include reconfiguring existing airplane runways, including on the northern end of the airport, where earlier plans to retool runway facilities produced outcry from neighboring communities concerned about noise, pollution, and other negative impacts. The proposed runway changes involve reconfiguring the airport’s road network while maintaining the current distance from those communities.

The plans come as Los Angeles World Airports, the entity that runs LAX, works to complete a $14 billion facilities upgrade plan for the airport’s existing roads, terminals, and associated transportation facilities.

That plan includes a $1.6 billion Gensler and Corgan–designed terminal that will bring 12 new gates to a mid-field site capable of handling new “super-jumbo” airplanes for long-haul international flights. The project, known as the Midfield Satellite Concourse (MSC) will connect to the existing and recently-expanded Tom Bradley International Terminal via a pair of underground tunnels that will feature moving sidewalks.
Clark Construction
Clark-Parsons not only demolished and rebuilt the underpass, but handled contentious environmental and community challenges, kept trains running throughout construction and finished ahead of schedule.

When one of the continent’s largest rail providers learned more than a decade ago that it would need to rebuild a century-old tunnel through dense Washington, D.C., to sustain the fluidity of a vital national rail network, it wasn’t sure how it could do it.

Luckily for owner CSX Transportation, a progressive design-build master stepped up to the challenge. And recently, the project came to its conclusion successfully and ahead of milestone target dates.

Headaches on the Virginia Avenue Tunnel project abounded from the start. First, the section in need of replacement was over 120 years old. Eleven city blocks of townhomes, parks, businesses, government offices and community centers ran along the length of the tunnel overhead, and seven cross streets and a massive interstate exchange lay adjacent. Intricate systems of public utility lines hid above and below.

The National Environmental Policy Act review process loomed over the entire project at every step.

And above all, it was crucial that the line stay operational during construction.

No project too big for progressive design-build
CSX had successfully delivered similar projects as part of its $850 million public- and privately-funded National Gateway Initiative, a program involving raising the heights of 61 bridges and tunnels through the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest to clear 21 feet of vertical clearance for taller, double-stack intermodal containers.

But at costs of between $150,000 and $15 million or so, prior projects were piddly in comparison, explained Brandon Knapp, a CSX project manager, at the 2018 Design-Build Conference & Expo in New Orleans last November.

Progressive design-build had seen CSX through those challenges, but could the nascent delivery method handle such a large, sensitive job like the Virginia Avenue Tunnel replacement?

This project, which Knapp called the cornerstone of the initiative, was in the $250 million to $300 million range. The tunnel didn't just need to be cleared from vertical obstruction. The single-track, often bottleneck-inducing passage needed to be widened to accommodate two trains as well.

“We had to have a construction method that allowed us to continue to run trains but also to complete this project in a timely fashion,” Knapp explained. “We knew it was going to be a contentious NEPA process and that we had to be able to construct within the limits of work that were assigned to the project. It required constructability from the beginning.”

The tunnel was originally built in the 1870s and only upgraded in the 1930s, he reminded attendees, showing black-and-white photos of a small underpass with dirt floors and wooden frames. “We also needed a team that had experience working with materials of the age and condition used in the existing tunnel.”
“We’ll give Elon Musk and the Boring Company credit for at least trying.”

It is good for smart people to spend their time coming up with genuinely innovative methods of overhauling this country's crumbling transportation infrastructure, and for diligent public servants to invest accordingly in promising technologies. It is, however, perhaps the height of Silicon Valley's terminal delusions of grandeur to decide that turning expensive electric vehicles into tiny train cars will accomplish anything other than enriching the already very rich people who manufacture them.

This, more or less, is the conclusion at which a trio of Virginia transportation officials recently arrived after traveling to Southern California to test out Elon Musk's much-hyped tunneling venture, hopeful that it could one day revolutionize commuting in the greater Washington area. Suffice it to say that their firsthand reviews of the experience, which involved strapping themselves into a Tesla that made its way through a 1.14-mile tunnel beneath a Los Angeles industrial park, are unlikely to appear in The Boring Company's marketing materials anytime soon. From the Virginia Mercury:

“It’s a car in a very small tunnel,” Michael McLaughlin, Virginia’s chief of rail transportation, told members of the Commonwealth Transportation Board’s public transit subcommittee on Wednesday.

“If one day we decide it’s feasible, we’ll obviously come back to you.”

When Musk conceived of The Boring Company—famously, via a series of frustrated tweets posted in the midst of an L.A. traffic jam—he pledged a network of subterranean luggage carousels, on top of which vehicles would park before being magically WHOOSHED from one end of town to the other at speeds of up to 150 miles per hour. Since then, he has pivoted to a system in which cars are equipped with "tracking wheels" that flip out from underneath the front bumper and run along rails built into the tunnel. Astute students of transportation will note that this ostensibly paradigm-wrecking technology bears a remarkable resemblance to "the train."

Last winter, a Chicago alderman who traveled to L.A. for his own test ride politely described it as "a little bumpy," noting that the Model X in which he traveled had reached a top speed of 34 miles per hour. Traffic-weary residents of northern Virginia will note that this description could easily apply to "the Metro that already exists," only if it were equipped with smaller trains that are capable of allowing fewer people to reach their intended destinations. So far, in what is probably a coincidence, only vehicles manufactured by Musk's Tesla company are compatible with the service.

Scott Kasprowicz, another Virginia Transportation Board member who gave it the proverbial college try, sounds as if he left feeling equally baffled by, uh, whatever he had just endured.

I think there’s a lot of show going on here...I don’t mean to suggest that they don’t have a serious plan in mind, but I don’t consider the steps they’ve taken to date to be substantive. They’ve purchased a used boring machine. They’ve put a bore in the neighborhood where they developed the SpaceX product, and they’ve taken a Model 3 and put guidewheels on it and they’re running it through the tunnel at 60 miles per hour. None of that, I think, is really significant from a standpoint of moving this process forward.
Pool/Getty Images
As thousands gather for the first public viewing of Musk’s ‘loop track’, skeptics wonder whether it will live up to its promises

Elon Musk enthused that this was no ordinary tunnel opening, but something epic and “incredibly profound”. Skeptics wondered whether it was just a hyped-up coming-out party for a hole in the ground.

In the end, the first public viewing of Musk’s latest visionary project – an underground “loop” track that promises to revolutionize transport in the 21st-century city – turned out to be a grand mixture of imaginative futurism and showbiz razzmatazz, not to mention a showcase for a novel tunnel-boring technology that may be the most significant development of all.

Whether the technology succeeds in increasing the speed of tunnel construction fifteenfold, as Musk said he hoped it would, or heralds the beginning of a vast underground network of transport channels beneath our cityscapes, is anybody’s guess.

Musk, for one, didn’t sound completely sure. “We’re obviously in the early stages here,” he told reporters. “This is a prototype. We’re figuring things out. What’s really important is that there is a path, finally, finally, finally … to alleviating traffic congestion in cities. If what we’re saying is true, and we think it is, there is finally a solution.”

The test tunnel, a 1.1-mile underground track that runs near the headquarters of Musk’s SpaceX company in an unlovely corner of south Los Angeles, was built with relatively conventional tunnel-boring technology for about $10m. But Musk’s underground construction arm, known as the Boring Company, has already envisioned a second- and third-generation technology that would simultaneously dig the hole, move the dirt out, and automatically install the reinforced concrete tunnel walls.