The View From Underneath 

Underground Roads

The surface of the earth is two dimensional.  The expansive realm beneath is three.  And that three-dimensional freedom gives the tunneling community a potentially powerful solution to several of today’s big problems.

That solution is underground roads.  Our cities are becoming more and more paved.  Our freeways are built out to the right-of-way lines.  Still, the roads are jammed.  Clearly, going underground offers a solution.  But, looking at tunnel prices, the economics would seem to be prohibitive.  Can the tunneling community offer any suggestions?  Think of the size of this potential market if the costs could be brought down.

If the costs of tunneling could be reduced, underground roads could be built for electric cars.  We are talking about underground roads exclusively for non-polluting cars operating under computer control.  Think what that could mean:

  1. Reducing Pollution.  Direct environmental and visual impact of underground roads would be much less than surface roads.  But, more importantly, having available underground high speed roads would be a powerful incentive for our switchover to pollution free cars. The biggest problem society faces, according to opinion makers of growing influence, is global warming caused by combustion of fossil fuels.  Bold plans are being proposed to bring about a switchover to non-combustion propulsion sources.  Cars operating in tunnels, for obvious reasons, would need to be pollution free.  Participation in the underground road system could also be predicated upon the car owner’s purchase of renewable energy for recharging.

  2. If a system of underground roads was built, or even was being built, then individual car owners would have a strong reason to invest in a pollution free car.  Sales of “green” cars would be stimulated.  It would be a non-coercive incentive system.

  3. Relieve Traffic Congestion.  Traffic often tops the list of contemporary problems.   Moving cars underground would leave the surface roads more open for SUVs, Hummers, and trucks.  They, in turn, could operate more efficiently to the extent that the underground roads reduced surface road traffic allowing them to move at speed.

  4. 21st Century Infrastructure.  Congress is trying to alleviate the recession by investing in infrastructure including traditional stop and go transit systems.  Underground roads for electric cars would move travelers continuously to their destinations.  It’s a 21st century system.  Widespread implementation would put the U.S. on the cutting edge.

  5. Invigorate Detroit.  Underground roads would necessitate total automatic control.  This would allow vehicles to follow each other at minimal spacing, a “train” of independent cars.  Two such lanes could carry a freeway’s worth of traffic and take up very much less of the surface.

  6. The cost of modern luxury cars is reported to be about half electronics and software.  Total automatic control is a continuation of that trend.  Those in Detroit who get out in front on this onewould have a better chance of surviving the current crisis.  This new market could resuscitate at least some of the auto industry.

    Underground auto tunnels would operate as an incentive system.  People who purchased a pollution free car with automatic control and also purchased renewable energy would have entry to the system.  They could travel fast and hands free below the crawls above.

    Existing organizations like the Intelligent Vehicle Transportation Systems Institute can testify to the feasibility of controlling cars in tunnels at, say, 60 miles per hour. Although critical, in an overall appraisal that is not the largest technical hurdle.  Rather, analysis of the economics of this idea suggest it is the cost of tunneling.  So the input of the tunneling community is key.