Should funds be taken away from public transport projects to fund underground road systems?

Group 12


Living in cities is great, until you run into something called traffic. A solution has recently been proposed that entails constructing roads underground. In theory, this will reduce traffic and allow us to pedestrianise our cities. The main drawback is how much investment this infrastructure requires. The Boring Company is a leading player in this field and estimates  $10 million per mile. This investment could instead be allocated for underground trains that have been proven as a mass transit system in several cities. This article looks at whether underground road systems should be funded instead of public transport projects.


This advancement in transport infrastructure will result in a reduction of surface traffic, which will allow the pedestrianisation of our cities. In Hong Kong, pedestrianisation is defined as the restriction of vehicles’ access to a street or area for the exclusive use of pedestrians. This will create safer roads and reattract people to the core of cities. The pedestrianisation of Times Square, in New York, has caused a 35% reduction in pedestrian accidents and an 11% increase in pedestrian activity. Pedestrianisation could have a positive effect on growing obesity rates present within cities by promoting alternative healthier modes of transport. Furthermore, the removal or reduction of internal combustion engines will improve air quality, thus decreasing strains on health services caused by asthma or other respiratory diseases. This approach to roads is infinitely scalable as roads can be built underneath one another.

Heavy goods vehicles make up the majority of pedestrian accidents. Most commonly this is due to HGVs having many blind spots. With the introduction of underground transport tunnels, goods can be moved into and out of cities safely. In addition to goods tunnels, utility and pedestrian tunnels could be constructed. The tunnels will be weather and earthquake proof, cause minimal disturbance to the surface during construction, and have no effect on pre-existing utilities (sewage, gas, electricity lines) as they are dug very deep. It avoids disturbance to residents and will ultimately provide faster private transportation. Once the tunnelling process improves, tunnels could begin to be constructed for the Hyperloop.

Utilitarianism advocates for actions that result in the happiness of the greatest number of people in society. This approach will benefit a great number of people by bringing additional income to the city centres while making them safer. Environmental ethics believe that humans are part of all living creatures, and it is important to respect the environment. By re-using the material excavated for building purposes, the 8% of carbon dioxide emissions caused by building with concrete can be reduced. This is also supported by Kantian theory as one would like others to adopt a green and sustainable lifestyle. The idea of tunnel construction for an underground road system is currently led by The Boring Company, founded by Elon Musk. Virtue ethics focuses on the nature of the actor and indicates which good or desirable characteristics people should develop. Elon could be argued moral as his apparent aim is to reduce traffic. Furthermore, Elon has conducted himself ethically, as seen in recent events with his involvement in providing internet services, with StarLink, to the masses in Ukraine.

Tesla driving down the loop


The main argument against building 3D underground road systems is that it would be very expensive. Currently, most tunnels cost anywhere between $100 million and $1 billion per mile. The Boring Company tunnels are currently priced much lower than this at around $10 million per mile, however, this estimate is for a single ‘lane’ tunnel of a diameter that would coincidentally fit a Tesla Model X. Moreover, such projects are unable to accommodate internal combustion engine vehicles because of ventilation concerns. Hence, according to Kantian theory, the construction of this system would be wrong as not everyone would have a vehicle of the correct dimensions and powertrain.

For such a project to be successful, it would require several ‘lanes’, not just one, which would increase the cost of tunnelling substantially. Using utilitarianism, investing these funds in public transport would be the correct choice as for example, in London, more people use public transport than cars. Furthermore, public transport is an established system of transporting millions of people per day without major issues. Using a personal car is worse than taking public transport as it produces more emissions per head.

Although he could be argued as a good person, as discussed earlier using virtue ethics, is this just another one of Elon’s strategies to increase the sales of new Teslas and improve his net worth? In support of this, his previous apparent manipulations of the stock market don’t help his case.

Elon’s main argument as to why the tunnels are different from a subway/tube is that a passenger using the tunnels can travel directly to their destination instead of stopping at all intermediate ‘stations’ like the tube does. Either automatic pods that transport the vehicles or autopilot built into each vehicle are planned to be used in the loops to enable travel at high speeds of more than 100 mph. Although there currently isn’t a decided method for the vehicles to enter and exit the system. Any method would still cause a lag of vehicles, once overloaded. This is due to cars having to change speeds to compete when lane merging. This would lead to the creation of traffic jams which defeats the entire purpose of the loop system.

Initial Decision

Group 12 is for funds being taken from public transport to fund underground road systems.

2 thoughts on “Should funds be taken away from public transport projects to fund underground road systems?

  1. Feedback
    1. Clarity of problem/dilemma
    Good clear statement of the problem, with good points made for both sides of the argument.

    2. Use of ethical theories in the For Case
    A good use of theories to provide ethical support.

    3. Use of Ethical theories in the Against case
    Another good use of theories. What’s interesting is that with Virtue Ethics, as with the Case for, you examine the actor. In this, Elon Musk whose company has a vested interest in the technology.

    4. Advice on Assignment Two
    a. Identifying stakeholders
    b. Courses of action
    Having focussed on Elon Musk, it’s clear he’s a stakeholder, as are the various civic governments and populations. Indirect stakeholders are the environment and future generations – possibly.
    With regards to Courses for Action – it looks like Black/White, although if you can propose a win-win that would be interesting.

    5. Personal remarks
    A fascinating topic. I’m against the idea as I can’t picture the idea of tunnels going straight to their destination. This brings to mind a city riddled with tunnels. Eventually, tunnels will either meet, or have to get deeper. I’m not sure I like the idea of skyscrapers sitting on a base that is so ‘porous’. As Tesla is developing driverless cars, why not go straight to the hyper-loop concept.

  2. A really fascinating and thought-provoking read. This subject is one that has an impact on everyone, and can very much be related to regardless of whether you’re a pedestrian or someone who takes public transport. The idea of integrating more underground public transport systems is something that could change the way we commute around busy cities, giving rise to more opportunities for those struggling to afford to pay the ‘Clean Air Zone’ charges that are already in place in major cities such as London, Birmingham and Manchester, where you have to pay to drive through the denser parts of cities.

    The fact that there’s been a 35% reduction in pedestrian accidents and an 11% increase in pedestrian activity in New York is very eye opening. It’s clear from this that pedestrianisation in busy cities can be effective, and even beneficial. I like how you’ve touched on each of the ethical theories for both sides of the argument.

    Linking Kantian theory in the ‘Against’ argument was very clever and you explained Elon Musks role and his positive and negative impacts on the topic well.

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