Elon Musk’s Boring Company gets green light for Las Vegas tunnel system

The Verge - Wed Oct 20 21:13

Elon Musk’s Boring Company just won approval from local officials to move forward with building a network of vehicle tunnels underneath Las Vegas. Dubbed the “Vegas Loop,” the system will allow passengers to hitch rides in Teslas to and from places like the hotel casinos on the Las Vegas Strip, the city’s new football stadium, the Las Vegas Convention Center, and McCarran International Airport.

The Boring Company already operates a small version of this “Teslas in Tunnels” system underneath the Las Vegas Convention Center, which opened earlier this year and involves two 0.8-mile tunnels. But Musk’s startup proposed a massive city-wide expansion in December 2020 that largely lines up with what Clark County officials approved Wednesday.

The system that was approved involves 29 miles of tunnels and 51 stations. Clark County says as many as 57,000 passengers will be able to travel through it per hour and that no taxpayer money will be spent to build it. The Boring Company previously said that it would foot the bill for building the main tunnels but planned to ask hotel casinos or other businesses that want a station to pay for those construction costs. Each one of those stops has to go through its own permitting process, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The Boring Company has been working to build out a system of tunnels underneath Las Vegas for a few years now. Over that time, Musk’s ambitions for what a tunnel-based transportation system would look like has changed. He once imagined using sleds to shuttle cars from the surface to the tunnels and back, as well as pods that would give preference to cyclists and pedestrians. Some of the company’s efforts to dig in other places have fizzled, like in Chicago, Los Angeles, and the Northeast corridor.

But the final version that was built under the Las Vegas Convention Center is really just “Teslas in Tunnels” — a phrase The Boring Company even uses on its own website. The Boring Company has said the plan is to ultimately use Teslas that can drive themselves, but Musk’s other company has not yet finished creating software capable of performing that feat. So, currently, the Teslas that run under the Convention Center have human drivers.

An expansion beyond the Convention Center loop didn’t initially seem likely, as the Las Vegas Monorail had exclusive rights to provide transportation along the city’s main stretch of resorts. But the company that ran the monorail went bankrupt in 2020. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority bought up the monorail and subsequently killed the noncompete agreement that prevented The Boring Company from pursuing a larger project.

As for why tunnels are a better solution than other transit options, The Boring Company makes this pitch on its website:

To solve the problem of soul-destroying traffic, roads must go 3D, which means either flying cars or tunnels are needed. Unlike flying cars, tunnels are weatherproof, out of sight, and won’t fall on your head.

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.

The Boring Company has previously quoted price estimates for the Vegas Loop system that sit somewhere between that of most public transit and the cost of a taxi or ride-hailing service. It expects a five-mile trip from the airport to the Convention Center to take about five minutes and cost $10, and a 3.6-mile ride from the Convention Center to the football stadium to take four minutes and cost $6.