Elon Musk's tunnel vision is closer to becoming a reality

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One of three stations in the Las Vegas Convention Center Loop. The project has gotten the green light to expand to more than 50 stops.
One of three stations in the Las Vegas Convention Center Loop. The project has gotten the green light to expand to more than 50 stops. Photo Credit: Photo Credit: LVCVA
Paul Szydelko
Paul Szydelko

It can't really be called mass transit. It's certainly not high-speed transportation. But it could become a unique way for Las Vegas visitors to avoid traffic congestion and packed parking lots -- and the Strip's newest tourist attraction.

The Vegas Loop, more informally known as "Teslas in Tunnels," an underground transportation solution designed by Elon Musk's Boring Company, took a step toward becoming a reality last month. The Clark County Commission unanimously approved a special-use permit and franchise agreement for the proposed 29-mile tunnel transportation system to operate throughout the resort corridor.

A massive, high-tech boring machine drills the tunnels without disrupting the surface. While initial concepts touted autonomously driven, van-size Teslas, current plans call for regular all-electric Teslas with human drivers to circulate in the tunnels.

Teslas in tunnels

Fifty-one stations are now anticipated for the Vegas Loop from downtown Las Vegas in the north to McCarran Airport in the south. It will include T-Mobile Arena, Allegiant Stadium and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (Thomas & Mack Center). As many as 700 Tesla vehicles ultimately could operate under some of the most expensive, densely developed real estate in the country.

The Vegas Loop will also connect to the Las Vegas Convention Center Loop, two side-by-side tunnels that became operational in June. Those tunnels allow up to 4,400 convention attendees per hour to be transported under the sprawling campus in less than two minutes, free of charge (what would otherwise be a 25-minute walk).

One connection, between the convention center and Resorts World, is already under construction and is expected to open in a few months.

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No public money will be used for the much-wider system, which could begin construction as soon as next year. The Boring Company will pay for the tunnels, mostly 30 feet under public rights of way. Resort owners will pay for stations, which could simply be ramps leading into porte-cocheres, parking garages or surface-parking lots.

In addition to avoiding traffic snarls, parking woes, long stoplights and pesky stop signs above ground, passengers won't have to ride with strangers or pause at multiple stations along the way (like a bus route or subway system). That point-to-point design is one of the main user benefits, says Steve Hill, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the leading proponent of the project.

"That's what makes this system an express system," Hill said at a press conference after the commission's decision. "You can get into the car here and go straight to where you want to go without stopping. … So it makes the trip really convenient and really quick and will allow our guests and our visitors to experience everything Vegas has in a really fun and efficient way."

'Affordable, accessible and comfy'

In addition to the convenience, the low cost will be another appeal for users. Fares are expected to be between what it costs to ride a bus and what it costs to ride an Uber or Lyft. For example, the 3.6-mile ride between the Las Vegas Convention Center and Allegiant Stadium would take about four minutes and cost $6, Boring Company's president Steve Davis said.

"This is not transportation for the wealthy," Davis said. "It's very affordable, very accessible and very, very comfortable."

Davis told the commission that the system would be built in phases, with initial plans for five to 10 stations to open within the first six months once construction begins. About 15 to 20 stations would be added each year until full buildout, he said.

Whether the underground system makes a dent on the often-gridlocked Strip remains to be seen, but Hill is optimistic that Vegas Loop riders will be able to see more of Vegas once they emerge from the tunnels because they will be able to get around quicker. The innovation also creates a new point of interest in a town well known for its curiosities.

"It's going to be an attraction in and of itself," Hill said. "We're going to be the first in the nation, first in the world, with this kind of system. People are going to try it out just for the fun of trying it out."

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