Seeking Tunnel Vision
The Boring Company
The idea of a tunnel from downtown Fort Lauderdale to the beach, under Las Olas Boulevard, has been proposed to solve the rush hour gridlock on the few roads to the beach from the heart of the city. That would be Las Olas Boulevard, and the narrow north-south streets connecting to Broward Boulevard.
Las Olas, east of 15th Avenue, is wide enough to handle heavy traffic with its four lanes. But what is not wide enough are the few streets connecting that boulevard to the similarly wide routes headed in every direction from downtown. The biggest jam is on 15th Avenue, between Las Olas and Broward Boulevard. You have busy four-lane commercial boulevards being linked by two-lane, largely residential streets. That is a formula for traffic jams. There are days when traffic waiting to be funneled into the narrow corridor backs up for blocks west on Broward.
The situation has been building for years, but it has worsened with recent efforts by Las Olas business interests to discourage heavy commuter traffic along its section of shops and restaurants. That has put more pressure on the streets of Colee Hammock, as frustrated motorists look for short cuts through the attractive neighborhood of oak-lined streets east of the downtown business district.
The tunnel would seem to be a solution to the problem. If it works. And that is a concern as momentum for a revolutionary concept seems to be gaining speed fast.
What is being proposed by Elon Musk's Boring Company is not a tunnel in the conventional sense — not like a tunnel under the Hudson River to New York or, more locally, the Henry Kinney Tunnel under the New River in Fort Lauderdale. As presented so far, details of the tunnel remain vague, but it appears to be a modern version of a subway, used only by Tesla vehicles. It would run from the Brightline Station on Broward Boulevard at the FEC rail crossing to the end of Las Olas on the beach, with a few stops in between. But you can't drive your own car through it. And that makes one wonder how useful it would be. How much of the traffic now using Las Olas and cross connecting streets requires people to have their own vehicles? Last week a source in Fort Lauderdale's communications department said there have been no studies of traffic patterns for the affected areas. That would seem to be a necessary first step in determining whether this tunnel would serve anybody but tourists going to and from the beach from downtown hotels.
As one who lives in Colee Hammock and sees the traffic movement daily, it seems most of the traffic through the neighborhood are cars that people need for daily commutes. They are either people who live on the beach or the Las Olas Isles and head to work outside the downtown, or vice versa. Most traffic seems to cut over from Las Olas and turn west on Broward to Federal Highway or other north and south routes. What good would a tunnel do them if they still need their cars to complete their commutes after they leave the tunnel. Some people would find the tunnel convenient to take them to the Brightline Station, where they catch that fast train either to Miami or West Palm Beach, but that is not a large number. And obviously tourists in downtown hotels would appreciate a quick way to the beach. But who else would use it?
A real tunnel that could handle conventional traffic would undoubtedly relieve much of the congestion. Before it gets swept up in the euphoria of an exotic concept, the city should first figure out where people in the affected area are actually going. That would help predict if the proposed tunnel might turn out to be a novel ride for tourists, but all-but-useless for locals fighting gridlock.