Atlanta man has crazy bold Elon Musk idea for Birmingham

Wood Hughes
Wood Hughes

Today’s guest columnist is Wood Hughes.

In the early 1890s, a newly married young South Carolina man was looking for a better life than the worn fields and swamps then owned by his family.

He decided to move his Charleston bride to the booming town of Atlanta where he got on with the Atlanta Police Department.

After some time, looking for an opportunity to move up in a little smaller but still growing area, he was hired by the City of Woodlawn to be their Chief of Police. The pay wasn’t great, but Jones Valley was booming and he could see better days ahead. So, he bought a log cabin off 67th Street South, and settled down. In 1901, the City of Woodlawn merged with the newly developed City of Birmingham and Rhodes Wilson became the first Captain of Detectives of the fast-growing “Magic City of the South”.

My grandfather wasn’t the first who moved to find new opportunities to attain a better life. He joined thousands of other rural families, both black and white, looking for something better to give to their children in the Post Reconstruction South.

And despite the bitter racism that still existed, Birmingham with its steel mills and well-paid heavy industry offered all a better chance to advance, therefore it continued to grow.

This had come to an end by the end of the 1960’s. When I graduated from the University of Alabama, there were jobs, but for a young man looking for opportunity, unlike the town still recovering from the shock of its “Bombingham” days, Atlanta was truly “The City Too Busy to Hate”. It attracted the young college graduates from all over the South, outpaced its competition, and grew into the South’s first Major League town.

So I moved to Atlanta (kicking and screaming) back in 1975. At that time, “Thank God, we’re not Atlanta” was the unofficial city motto. But I realized that to the young newly college educated minds of the Southeast, Atlanta represented a working model of diversity and opportunity for growth and economic prosperity.

Mind you, in the 1950 Census, Birmingham was BIGGER than Atlanta. The Atlanta Rotary Club was founded by the Birmingham Rotary Club.

So, what do I see that Birmingham has since done right? First, my hometown managed to replace its Rust Belt Steel economy with a medical industry-based economy and attract related employers to support its needs.

And the same slowdown that allowed the young to move elsewhere, avoided the senseless destruction of its beautiful buildings from that same early-twentieth-century growth spurt.

Additionally, Birmingham has developed a food and hospitality industry poised to rival New Orleans in the 21st Century.

So, what does Birmingham, both city and Metro area, need to do to rival its real competitors?

Attack what I still see as the “Over the Mountain” mentality.

Build a rapid transportation line between Downtown (from the BJCC) and the Galleria would be a massive new backbone for the growth of Birmingham and the entire Metro Area.

A new and reasonably priced option is now available.

Elon Musk, the man behind SpaceX and Tesla, also has a company called The Boring Company. For a fraction of what Atlanta and Washington DC spent in building their subway system, Las Vegas is building an underground transit way featuring all-electric Tesla EV’s for now, but eventually hosting small EV vans carrying a dozen or so passengers apiece. Ft. Lauderdale, FL, and other cities are also in the process of studying this new option. (See video below).

A Boring Company tunnel connecting the BJCC to the Galleria, with stops along the way at the downtown transit center, Five Points, then diving directly under Red Mountain to Homewood before diving under Shades Mountain to Vestavia and other points along the way would provide a backbone for the permanent redevelopment of high density, walkable communities like that in downtown Decatur, GA.

A few other stops at Interstate 65 exits to allow drivers from outside the service area to park and ride into all the attractions along the new route would also prevent Birmingham from being clogged by the traffic woes that Atlanta still suffers.

Adding a second tunnel, eventually connecting downtown Bessemer to East Lake Park would be a potential game-changer for the old heart of town. Stops in Woodlawn, Avondale, downtown, and even West End and Ensley would provide safe spots for growing populations, property taxes, and a new lifestyle for the young job seekers of the mid-Twenty-First Century.

Will it happen? Frankly, if the State of Alabama remains the political obstacle to Birmingham’s growth that it has been, it will be difficult.

But a dream has a magic of its own, and where better to dream than The Magic City?

Wood Hughes is a Birmingham native, graduate of Woodlawn High School, and past President of the Georgia Realtors Land Institute and chapter President of the Atlanta Sons of the American Revolution. He’s also served on the Board of the Henry County (GA) Quality Growth Council. 

VIDEO: The Boring Company is building a tunnel system that will go under the Las Vegas Strip shuttling 57,000 passengers per hour using 700 Teslas. It will use no tax payer monies and be less expensive than ride share. (3:36)


David Sher is the founder and publisher of ComebackTown.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

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7 thoughts on “Atlanta man has crazy bold Elon Musk idea for Birmingham”

  1. Why do you think the State of Alabama remains a political obstacle? I don’t know of anyone who would oppose this.

    While I think this is a great idea, would it not be better served in a growing metro like Huntsville or maybe Mobile? Both of those metros show a more promising future. I’m afraid that Birmingham has reached its plateau and will be there for a long time, and that’s ok! Huntsville is really the shining light right now and will be dealing with much of the same “bigger city” issues that Birmingham currently has.

    Said a different way… Huntsville has a big “uh oh” ahead of it and needs to do something now to address the population growth.. Birmingham really doesn’t have a “need”, it would just be nice-to-have. Birmingham’s traffic might get better as the population ages and growth remains slower than other metros.

    Again, I love the idea and it’s definitely ambitious but I would think projects like this are better served in cities that are on the move.

    Also, can we stop talking about how Birmingham used to be bigger? It’s kinda like Mobile people talking about how Mardi Gras started there.. Who cares? Mobile’s Mardi Gras pales in comparison to New Orleans.

    1. “ I love the idea and it’s definitely ambitious but I would think projects like this are better served in cities that are on the move.”

      Quoting my friends who follow the Chicago Cubs, “Anybody can have a bad century. “

      You are making my case that even many who love Birmingham can’t see it as it should be. I have little doubt that most residents don’t know why and how Birmingham was the last major city to complete its Interstate connections. Likewise, most don’t understand why the I59/20 corridor winds and is so difficult to drive and I459 is a shorter route east to west.

      The answer? Jefferson County never went for Wallace and Wallace moved Highway money out of Jefferson where he could. My guess is the economic center of the Metro is Hoover, not Birmingham.

      And yet, Birmingham’s intelligently designed street grid along with the 21st Century job magnet for a diversified economy take advantage of UAB as an incubator. Add in the end of the era of air traffic dominance in favor of an eventual high speed rail system that will reduce Atlanta’s dominance as a regional hub all point to an opportunity wave that Birmingham and it’s leaders need to prepare for.

  2. By what measure are you saying that Birmingham was larger than Atlanta in 1950? According to the US census, Birmingham had a population of 298,720. Atlanta had a population of 327,090. Unless math in Alabama is different than the rest of the world, 327,090 > 298,720.

    1. Thank you for pointing this out. According to the attached article in, ( Atlanta’s population was approximately 5000 larger than Birmingham’s.

      However, the Birmingham economy was based on heavy industry and was also heavily (for the South) unionized compared to the service and transportation economy that powered Atlanta. At the time, Coca-Cola was the only world wide famous company based there. So, while I can’t find my reference, I’m comfortable in believing that Birmingham’s overall economy outpaced Atlanta.

      Happy Holidays!

  3. Unfortunately this area has significant limestone and granite formations that makes major tunneling projects cost prohibited. Maybe instead of going underneath the surface the transit system could go above the surface? Possibly a gondola style skyway.

    1. Quoting The Boring Company website, “ Tunnels minimize usage of valuable surface land and do not conflict with existing transportation systems. A large network of tunnels can alleviate congestion in any city; no matter how large a city grows, more levels of tunnels can be added.”

      I may note that the very reason Birmingham is here is due to the vast deposits of limestone (a soft rock), iron ore ( a sedimentary rock) , and coal. You might say, we built this city in rock and coal!

      The advantage offered by TBC is they use a narrower diameter drill head which greatly reduces drilling costs. Since they only use electric vehicles in their completed tunnels, little or no additional ventilation is required beyond the movement of EVs through the system.

      I do agree that the only way to definitively answer your question is to empower a panel of citizens to look into it. I appreciate your interest in this idea.

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