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Musk's Tunnel System Yet To Open, But Expansion Already In The Works

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Mark Damon/Las Vegas News Bureau

The drill head gets lowered into the ground in October 2019 as the Boring Co. starts work on the second phase of its $52 million passenger tunnel project under the Las Vegas Convention Center. Applications are being filed to expand the system into the resort corridor and downtown.

Elon Musk’s Boring Co., which is building a passenger tunnel system under the Las Vegas Convention Center, is already taking steps to expand.

An application before the city of Las Vegas Planning Commission seeks approval to bring what’s known as the Vegas Loop into downtown.

That would be part of a system that one day could use Teslas to whisk passengers from the airport to the resort corridor through a series of one-way tunnels.

Word of the application came through a news release put out by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, which is developing the $52 million convention center system. When it opens in early 2021, two nearly mile-long tunnels will take passengers underneath the convention center campus.

Both the LVCVA and the Boring Co. declined to comment, but earlier this year executives with both organizations expressed optimism the system would one day operate north-south on the Strip and potentially east and west into more residential areas.

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Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman also declined comment but provided a statement that reads, in part, “The current appetite being whet is one for a comprehensive tunneling system, which will have to pass through all levels of comprehensive scrutiny and inspection first."

Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom told State of Nevada he is bullish on the idea of an underground transportation system but the public and elected officials should be involved in its development.

Hours after the LVCVA announcement, Segerblom tweeted, “Who needs a county commission — an unelected convention authority takes over mass transit.”

“I think something this major should be handled by an elected body, which in this case should be the county commission,” Segerblom said, “I like the idea, and I think it’s fantastic, but truthfully no one has actually ever ridden in one of these tunnels as a passenger."

Segerblom said there a lot of unanswered questions like how will the Boring Company make money? How much will fairs be to ride it? Will they build tunnels under major roadways that could also be used to move workers into and out of the resort corridor?

The commissioner said the company might have answers to all of those questions, but he hasn't heard them yet.

“There’s just lots of questions that the public ought to be involved in and the public elected officials should be involved," he said.

Tina Quigley used to head the Regional Transportation Commission, which oversees public transportation around Southern Nevada.

She agreed that there are a lot of questions, but there are a lot of positive aspects to the project, which make it intriguing.

Quigley said the Boring Company is able to create fully completed tunnels for about $26 million a mile compare that to standard subway tunnels, which cost $750 million a mile. 

“To be able to do it so quickly and such reduced cost is completely intriguing,” she said.

Another interesting part of the project is how many people the company says it can move in an hour. It says it can move upwards of 10,000 people per hour. Quigley said the RTC moved about 2,800 people per hour along the resort corridor and the Las Vegas Monorail moved 6,600 people.

If the system works as well as the company says it will, it could bring a lot of attention to Las Vegas.

“This is such a new mode that it’s going to have national attention, global attention, and the fact that Las Vegas gets to be at the center of it is exciting,” Quigley said. 

Robert Lang, a professor at UNLV's College of Urban Affairs, said Las Vegas is a perfect place to test out technology likes this because the city gets so many travelers from around the world.

However, he would like to see the technology translate into something more.

“If we go to any negotiations, here’s what I would like: How about you move your headquarters here. Make this the place where this technology is developed so we can export it,” he said.

He would like to see the company create a relationship with Las Vegas to be more than just a Guinee pig for the technology. 

Lang doesn't see a need right now for the public to be involved with the project because it isn't using public funds, and the plan is to work with resorts along the Strip to build it, which means the county and city don't need to be involved.

But, if it does get to the point where the public is involved, Lang said there should be a referendum. 

“That’s the only way you get stakeholders at the level to keep building the system,” he said.

Lang pointed to Phoenix as an example of getting support for mass transit. When the public was asked to weigh in on an expansion of the city's light rail system, the operators of the system thought they wouldn't get enough votes to pass it. Instead, an overwhelming majority of people voted for it.

“If we really want to have a discussion that this is our mode of transportation, then that would go to the public,” he said.

Lang also has questions about the project, specifically how fast it can be loaded and unloaded. If it loads as fast as Washington, D.C.'s metro during rush hour, then he believes it would work for the Las Vegas Strip. 

Outside of some questions about functionality, Lang believes the idea and the way it is being executed has no downsides.

“It is nothing but a net positive. It may turn out to be a real game-changing technology. We don’t know yet,” he said.

Despite the current economic downturn, Lang believes it is a good time to invest in infrastructure that will be needed when the city bounces back.

Commissioner Segerblom agreed that now is the time for infrastructure investment. However, he doesn't want the project to come to the county commission completely finished with no room for commissioners' input and questions.

He noted that is what happened with the Las Vegas Monorail, which has struggled almost from the beginning. 

That is also what happened during the special legislative sessions that decided the public financing part of the Allegiant Stadium deal and tax abatements for the Telsa gigafactory, Segerblom said. He was in the Legislature for both special sessions.

He said he wants to see the project get deliberation and discussion among a number of stakeholders, including labor unions, the resorts, and the public.

If everything checks out and the project moves forward, “I’m willing to push that as fast as we can, but I don’t want to have a done deal handed to me and said, ‘Take it or leave it. Vote today,’" he said.

Guests

Tick Segerblom, commissioner, Clark County Commission; Tina Quigley, former general manager, Regional Transportation Commission; Robert Lang, professor, UNLV College of Urban Affairs

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