A hyperloop test tunnel. Image by SpaceX Hyperloop licensed under Creative Commons.

A construction staging permit, issued in November for a year, gives Elon Musk's tunnel-digging enterprise called the Boring Company permission to do construction staging (but not digging any tunnels) in NoMa.

Will Dean noticed the permit in the District's online permit database. What's most curious is that the “project code” is “top secret.” (Enter that in the search form and you can find it for yourself.)

Musk gained headlines, and scorn, when he tweeted that he had “verbal gov't approval” to build a Hyperloop tunnel. Government approvals for transportation projects generally require years of planning, environmental impact statements, and community input. But Maryland Governor Larry Hogan did give permission for Musk's company to dig under the BW Parkway and other roads to build a tunnel between DC and Baltimore.

This NoMa staging area is likely connected to that. However, we should hope that DC officials will be more considered than Hogan, who's shown a penchant for chasing after shiny new things — Amazon HQ2, this tunnel, massive road widenings with dubious cost claims — while neglecting existing transportation systems like MARC which already move many people and could move many more with some investment.

Perhaps Musk can make this tunnel work, though there are many reasons to be suspicious of hyperloop. Still, let's give it a chance. Musk also has been talking about digging tunnels for cars, and that would definitely not be an improvement. Regardless, Musk, like anyone else, should have to demonstrate to residents and elected leaders why a transportation proposal is good for the public interest, rather than merely push it through with “top secret” “verbal gov't permission.”

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.