SPI-to-Boca Chica tunnel? Musk’s Boring Company floats idea

A shrimp boat makes its way through the jetties heading toward the Brownsville Shrimp Basin on Thursday afternoon. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

With closures of S.H. 4 and Boca Chica Beach becoming more frequent due to activity at SpaceX’s “Starbase” production complex and launch/test site, Cameron County officials are mulling ways to restore access to at least part of the beach even during closures.

One possible solution would entail digging a tunnel from the south end of South Padre Island to a point on the north end of Boca Chica Beach, an idea proposed by the Boring Company, owned by SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk. The Boring Company has dug one tunnel, in Las Vegas, Nev., and the company’s representatives responsible for that project met with county administrator Pete Sepulveda Jr. and county engineer Benjamin Worsham about a month and a half ago, Sepulveda said.

So far the idea hasn’t gone farther than a presentation by the Boring Company, he said.

“From what we understand from SpaceX is there is a good portion of the beach that can remain open if there was access to it, even though the road is closed and even though a portion of the beach is closed,” Sepulveda said.

A tunnel would provide access to Starbase for SpaceX personnel who live on the Island or in the Laguna Madre area, and allow the public to access the portion of Boca Chica north of S.H. 4, though the Boring Company would have to find a way to pay for it, he said. The 1.7-mile tunnel known as the Las Vegas Convention Center Loop cost $52 million to build. The distance between the southern tip of Isla Blanca Park and the northern tip of Boca Chica Beach is about a third of a mile.

“(Paying for it) is not something that the county would be interested in,” Sepulveda said. “That would be prohibitive for us. We really didn’t get into those details, but once we do we wouldn’t be able to participate with any type of funding.”

The proposal is just a concept for now; an in-depth study would be needed to determine whether a tunnel is even feasible or not, he said.

“Keep in mind that the ship channel goes by there, so that depth would have to be pretty far down,” Sepulveda said.

The Boring Company presenters seemed quite confident they could tackle the project, he added.

“They did to me,” Sepulveda said. “That’s way above my understanding, but with technology today you can get pretty creative.”

The next step would be to sit down with the Boring Company for more specific discussions, he said, noting that the county is also exploring the possibility of a ferry service between the Island and Boca Chica Beach. Building a new road to Boca Chica is another potential solution, though Sepulveda said it would be tough to accomplish.

“Understand the sensitivity of the environment in that area,” he said. “Perhaps doing a tunnel is one way to impact the environment a lot less than doing a surface-level road or bridge. … Again, the whole gist of it is what are our options to provide access to the north end of Boca Chica Beach.”

With activity at the SpaceX site continuing to pick up in preparation for the first orbital flight of a Starship prototype and closures becoming more frequent, there’s plenty of impetus for the county to find some way to restore access to at least part of the beach.

“I think moving forward we probably need to start looking at what type of solutions are out there,” Sepulveda said. “I think we’re willing to work with SpaceX just to look at what options, solutions, are out there. I’m not sure what amount if any we can bring to the table financially.”

sclark@brownsvilleherald.com