Musk's Las Vegas Tunnel Project Sparks Transportation Discussion


Courtesy Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority

An artist's rendering of a Boring Co. station.

If nothing else, the plan to shuttle visitors under the Las Vegas Convention Center in electric vehicles has sparked discussion about transit needs in the tourist corridor.

Urban development expert Robert Lang, the Lincy Chair of Urban Affairs and head of the Brookings Mountain West think tank at UNLV, said the tunnel system now under construction has caught the imagination of Las Vegas.

“The table has been set for the discussion,” Lang told State of Nevada. “Everyone admits now that there’s an issue with people movement on the Strip.”

Lang said the Las Vegas Strip is now the densest built environment in the United States without any kind of public transportation system outside of the RTC buses.

The Elon Musk-founded Boring Co. has a $52.5-million contract with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority to deliver twin, nearly mile-long adjoining tunnels linking the existing convention center complex with the under-construction West Hall.

It will use Tesla sedans and custom 16-passenger vehicles to move 4,400 people an hour under the convention center campus.

Neil Opfer, an engineering professor at UNLV, said the electric vehicle aspect of the project is what makes it unique.

“It’s doable in the sense that they’re using right now more or less a conventional tunnel boring machine - TBM," he said, "TBM’s are used all over the world. What makes their effort a little bit different is the fact that number one, because they’re using electric vehicles they don’t have the problems of ventilation that you do with internal combustion engines.”

Support comes from

He explained that in some tunnels half of the volume of the tunnel is taken up by ventilation systems. That means more ground needs to be removed, exploding the cost of the project.

Opfer noted that a two-mile tunnel project in Seattle is costing about a billion dollars per mile, but the Boring Company project here is costing about $10 million a mile.

In recent weeks, both the CEO of the LVCVA and the head of the Boring Co. publicly speculated that the convention center system could be expanded to McCarran International Airport, the Strip, downtown Las Vegas, and into the residential parts of the community.

Lang believes it is possible to expand the system but starting in one location with one purpose is a good way to explore possibilities and understand limitations.

He suggests if the project could be scaled up money from the live entertainment tax could help fund it.

“It would be a lot of money," he said, "You would be able to build a robust system from it. If we were the first in the world to execute on it, the positive benefit for us is, I would hope, that some part of the technology itself and its future development would be located in the valley and would help create diversification within our economy.”

There are some challenges. The builders already found water when boring and have had to pump it out. Opfer said they shouldn't be surprised because there is a lot of water under the Strip. The underground parking garage at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas had the same problem and so did the parking garage at the Westgate hotel-casino. 

He said groundwater must be pumped from those garages 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

There is also an issue of Southern Nevada soil. He said the sulfates in our soil eat away at concrete, which is why sulfate-resistant concrete is needed.

As far as surface traffic disruptions, the Boring Company noted that construction of the tunnel was going on during the Consumer Electronics Show, one of the largest conventions in Las Vegas, and no one noticed.



Robert Lang, Lincy Chair of Urban Affairs, UNLV; Neil Opfer, engineering professor, UNLV; Doug Puppel, news producer, Nevada Public Radio 

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