Six years ago, SpaceX installed an above-ground tube in front of its headquarters in Hawthorne, sparking excitement and intrigue throughout the city about Chief Executive Elon Musk’s latest experiment.
In annual competitions, engineers and students around the world sought to develop and test Musk’s proposed Hyperloop transportation technology, which promised to launch passengers through tunnels in self-contained electric pods levitating at more than 600 mph, cutting off a trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco. at 35 minutes.
Today, there is no Hyperloop system in use. And after being inactive for several years, the Jack Northrop Avenue tube – which prompted complaints about road and pedestrian access, as well as questions about its purpose – has been removed, at the request of the city.
“The city has been very generous and has been very supportive of SpaceX’s efforts,” said Hawthorne board member Angie Reyes English, who asked city staff to ask SpaceX to remove the tube. “But at the end of the day, we have other businesses and other things that we need to consider, and give the community back their streets.”
It remains unclear if SpaceX or Musk’s tunneling company, Boring Co., are continuing to develop Hyperloop technology. Bloomberg, which first reported the Hawthorne tube’s retirement this week, called it “symbolic of greater retirement” and said the Hyperloop project “has been shelved indefinitely.”
Representatives for SpaceX and Boring Co. did not respond to requests for comment.
After the last student competition in the summer of 2019, SpaceX apparently abandoned operations in the nearly mile-long test tube, which collected dust and debris from nearby train tracks, as well as pine needles from trees that had not been pruned for years due to lack. access, says English.
The subway ran in an eastbound lane towards Crenshaw Avenue, complicating existing concerns in the busy area about traffic congestion, drivers traveling at freeway speeds, and pedestrian safety.
In 2017, SpaceX built a pedestrian bridge connecting its offices to a parking structure after employees were hit by vehicles while crossing Crenshaw Avenue, according to a report by Daily Breeze. The city supported the project, English said.
Alex Estrada, manager of Tow World on Jack Northrop Avenue, said he was starting to worry about pedestrians being forced to walk down the street by the subway.
“It pretty much embarrassed everyone,” he said.
After the SpaceX competitions ended, he and others began to wonder why the tube remained.
“I assumed they forgot about it or just left it there,” Estrada said.
After the tube was removed, a remnant barricade and a few plastic cones remained, obstructing a lane on Jack Northrop. A patch of asphalt that runs alongside the tracks has been turned into a parking lot, which the city has not approved, English said.
The council member plans to ask for the barricades to be removed and said she will look into options for enforcing unauthorized lot parking.
“We just have to clean it up to keep it safe and ensure the right of way for pedestrians,” English said.
English said she has a close working relationship with SpaceX and Boring Co., pointing to the jobs being created and boosting the local economy.
When Boring Co. sought to build a separate one-mile tunnel under a Hawthorne neighborhood to test its underground self-driving vehicles, English, along with the rest of the council, approved the project. But she pushed the company to conduct more community outreach to let residents know about the project, which was unveiled in late 2018.
Now that the overhead tube is gone, the English and others at City Hall are turning their attention to the underground tunnel, which runs along 120th Street.
Given Musk’s history of storage tunnel projects, English isn’t sure the Hawthorne project is still going, she said.
Boring Co. representatives told City Atty. Robert Kim as recently as this summer that the company was using the tunnel for development and research. It is necessary to backfill the tunnel with concrete as soon as the project is completed, Kim said.
Musk previously scrapped plans to build a tunnel under Sepulveda Boulevard on the Westside in 2018 after a lawsuit alleged the City of Los Angeles violated state law when it sought to exempt the tunnel environmental review.
More recently, Musk backed out of a proposed tunnel that would have carried passengers from the Rancho Cucamonga Metrolink station to Ontario International Airport. San Bernardino County transit officials plan to continue the project without him.
Boring Co. has pledged to complete tunnel and loop projects in Las Vegas, according to its website, including one that would transport people to the city’s convention center.
At Hawthorne, English has noticed a lack of activity entering and exiting the Boring Co.’s underground tunnel. She plans to request a site visit to ensure that it is in operation.
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