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Elon Musk, co-founder and chief executive officer of Tesla Inc, speaks during an unveiling event for the Boring Company Hawthorne test tunnel in Hawthorne, California, on December 18, 2018. Photo: AP

Elon Musk’s Boring Co is feuding with Texas over driveway regulations amid construction in rural town

  • Boring Co built a driveway in the rural town of Bastrop after failing to get a permit for safety reasons regarding the site plan
  • The company’s dealings with the town are an illustration of how Musk’s businesses push the boundaries of or simply ignore regulations

While Elon Musk is publicly making a big deal about moving to Texas and cozying up to the governor, behind the scenes his tunnel-building venture, Boring Co, is wrangling with local authorities in the state over a host of seemingly mundane permitting issues.

Since Boring bought land last May to create a research and development centre in Bastrop, Texas, a rural area outside Austin, the company has put workers up on mobile homes at the site without authorised sewage facilities, failed to get air and stormwater permits and built a driveway without first getting official approval, according to documents obtained by Bloomberg News through a public records request.

The company’s dealings with Bastrop are yet another illustration of how Musk’s businesses often push the boundaries of or simply ignore regulations that bind other companies. In recent years his Tesla Inc restarted production at its Fremont plant in defiance of pandemic rules to stay closed, Boring tried to build a tunnel in Los Angeles without going through an environmental review process and the US Securities and Exchange Commission is examining the disclosure of Musk’s stake in Twitter Inc.

Boring staff mentioned in this article did not reply to requests for comment.

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Texas was supposed to be different. For a start, officials including Governor Greg Abbott gave him a big welcome. “Woohoo!” a Bastrop development official emailed County Judge Paul Pape, the presiding officer of the county government, after Boring closed on the property. “Elon Musk is now a Bastrop County property owner! Project Submarine has landed!!”

And part of the reason Musk traded California for Texas was its business-friendly climate. This has worked out for Tesla, he said in an interview with the Tesla Owners of Silicon Valley club published Tuesday.

“We built the factory here in less time than it would have taken to get the permits in California,” he said, speaking from Tesla’s Gigafactory in Texas. “The typical permitting time for a greenfield in California is two years, and you’re going to get sued, because you’re in California. We didn’t get any lawsuits here, and we got the factory built in 18 months.”

For Boring, even a Texas permitting process is too slow.


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The company’s venture into Bastrop was at first cooperative. On April 16, 2021, Boring asked the Texas Department of Transportation what information officials needed to approve driveways from the new site to a nearby farm-to-market road, the FM 1209. It said it was submitting a driveway planning application on July 27. The next day, Texas DOT engineer Margaret Lake replied that the document was missing key items, including an overall site plan, and that the proposed driveway was at least 153 feet too close to the nearby Walker Watson Road.

About six weeks later, the DOT found out that Boring had gone ahead and built the driveway anyway. Lake sent photos of it to another DOT engineer, Diana Schulze, who alerted Deputy District Engineer Mike Arellano. “Mike,” she wrote in a Sept. 16 email, “As we discussed they put this driveway in without a permit.”

Arellano emailed Boring’s project development lead, Mike Thompson, later that day to say that for safety reasons the driveway was too close to the nearby Walker Watson Road, and Boring should submit the documents required for a driveway permit while finding a safer location. He included a photo of the driveway.

Boring submitted a variance request on September 30 to allow the driveway to stay where it was. The variance hasn’t been approved, a spokesperson for the Texas DOT said Monday.

Texas has found other shortcomings with Boring’s submissions for the site. An October 25 email from Lake to Boring said the company would have to build space for vehicles to get on and off the road as it lacked an appropriate shoulder. Boring senior civil engineer Hunter Brauer made the case January 9 that this wasn’t needed in part because the deliveries from large trucks were infrequent. Lake replied January 18 that the extra space was needed for safety reasons irrespective of the volume of traffic and was “non-negotiable”.

It’s “extremely unusual, especially for a major company like that, to basically ignore state safety laws”, said Lyndon Henry, a transportation planning consultant based in Austin. “I would think it reflects very badly on them to be ignoring safety regulations regarding something as simple and elementary as an access driveway.”

Elon Musk arrives to speak at a Boring Company community meeting in Los Angeles on May 17, 2018. Photo: Reuters

Then there is the sewage problem.

On the morning of February 28, county commissioners met at the courthouse in downtown Bastrop, about a 10 minute drive from the Boring site, to discuss matters including Boring’s application for a permit to build a massive manufacturing facility. A local homeowner said workers were already living in mobile homes there. Once Judge Pape pointed out letting people reside on the site without a sewage permit might violate the permitting process, the commissioners tabled the application for the manufacturing facility.

After the meeting, Commissioner Mel Hamner, who represents the area of Bastrop where the Boring facility is located, returned to his office in the building next door. There he found an unexpected visitor waiting for him: Boring President Steve Davis. They had a “terse” conversation about the postponed manufacturing facility permit, and left it that Boring would continue working with the county to resolve the issues, Hamner said.

About a month later, officials from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality visited the site in response to complaints that it was operating without authorisation and that there was liquid spilled on the ground near the machinery. Officials observed three silos had been installed without permits for air quality or stormwater management, and a spokesman for TCEQ said its inspectors didn’t find any spills. The agency recommended Boring obtain the needed approvals, which it has done.

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Meanwhile, officials continued to raise concerns about the driveway. A March 4 email from Arellano to Boring Business Development Lead Brian Gettinger highlighted the liability risks:

“Elected officials and local residents are reporting that the truck traffic in and out of this driveway is frequent on a daily basis. Given this unpermitted, unapproved driveway does not meeting spacing criteria, I need your cooperation to add a turn lane immediately to address this safety concern.

“I am sure The Boring Company does not want to bear this liability so we are here to help expedite the approval of the design and permit for a driveway and turn lane as required.”

Gettinger pushed back in a March 29 email, saying “the traffic flow on FM 1209 and the frequency of truck deliveries does not represent a risk to traffic great enough to warrant a centre turn lane at this time.”

Arellano replied the same day:

“It only take on one truck turning movement to create a preventable hazard to the public.

“Again, with the decision to construct this driveway with no permit or approval at the location chosen, all liability is on the Boring Company at this point in time.”


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DOT engineer Schulze sent Boring an ultimatum on the morning of Monday, April 25.

“After discussing with General Counsel, TxDOT will require from your company a traffic control plan for safely getting your trucks in and out of the driveway. I need to have this by the end of the day. If we do not receive this traffic control plan then we have been directed to barricade the driveway on FM 1209 from further use until the traffic control plan is submitted.”

Later that day, Gettinger replied with an interim traffic plan, and Schulze approved it by return email. By the end of the week, the company had installed orange signs on the FM 1209 to warn traffic about its driveway.

Boring received a temporary permit for its driveway earlier this month, the Texas DOT spokesperson said. The final permit could take up to 60 days.