Elon Musk’s company to build underground transportation loop for Las Vegas convention center

Billionaire Elon Musk finally has a chance to complete a shopping tunnel project after his Boring Co. was awarded a $48.7 million contract to build a mass transit system for the expanding Las Vegas convention center .

The 14-member Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority board of directors approved the contract Wednesday afternoon, betting on the Hawthorne startup, which has not completed a commercial project.

For memory :

00:00 on May 23, 2019Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman’s name was misspelled in an earlier version of this report.

The system, called a “people carrier”, will transport passengers in self-driving electric vehicles through a loop about a kilometer long under the center – which, after an expansion of 1.4 million square feet, will span 1.5 miles end to end.

The council opted for Boring Co.’s proposal because it was considerably cheaper than the other options, with a faster construction time and because an underground system creates less disruption, according to a news release. The loop is said to handle at least 4,400 passengers per hour, with the company promising to shorten a 15-minute walk to a one-minute ride.

But the road to approval was not easy. Ahead of the meeting, two board members, Michele Fiore and Carolyn Goodman, the mayor of Las Vegas, expressed skepticism about taking risks on a startup that has yet to build a transportation system. in common for commercial use.

So far, the only tunnel Boring has completed is a test road about a mile long under Hawthorne. The company was in negotiations to build a tunnel that would connect downtown Chicago and O’Hare International Airport. However, now that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is leaving office, the project has stalled.

Boring Co. Hawthorne Test Tunnel

(Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

Talks to build a high-speed tunnel between John F. Kennedy International Airport and Manhattan have failed. A proposed tunnel from Washington to Baltimore is going through an environmental review process. Boring also proposed a 3.6-mile underground route that would transport baseball fans between Dodger Stadium and a nearby subway station.

Fiore and Goodman argued for a competing proposal from Doppelmayr Garaventa, an established Austrian company, for an elevated rail transit system. Goodman, in a May 14 letter that she circulated among fellow board members, said that with a $1 billion expansion underway that will boost tourism, the board must tread carefully. .

“Now is NOT the time to experiment with an untested, unproven transportation system that will impact our region’s MOST IMPORTANT INDUSTRY,” Fiore wrote. “The first ranked proposal under consideration is from a 3-year-old candidate who, to date, has completed ZERO Functional Systems.”

Boring did not respond to requests for comment.

An original proposal from Doppelmayr was valued at $215 million for its above-ground system, according to the Las Vegas Sun. But in Goodman’s letter, she said the company was willing to complete it at a much lower cost of $85 million, though that’s still higher than Boring’s previously estimated cost of $35-55 million. .

The Convention and Visitors Authority said in a statement Wednesday that the Boring contract provides for three underground passenger stations, one tunnel for pedestrian traffic and two tunnels for vehicles.

“The Boring Company is excited to help shape the future of Las Vegas and work with leaders who have a vision for transportation,” company president Steve Davis said in the statement.

The contract includes a condition requiring the company to fully reimburse the authority through a payment recovery bond if it fails to complete the project.

Boring looked for ways to make tunneling faster and cheaper.

Musk unveiled his first tunnel in December, a 1.14-mile run going 20 to 40 feet under Hawthorne. The test tunnel took 18 months and cost $10 million, excluding research and development costs.

Musk said the price was well below that of a typical subway project, which could cost hundreds of millions of dollars per mile. Boring Co. cites a smaller diameter for its tunnels as one of the reasons it is able to cut costs.

“Musk basically uses off-the-shelf technology. What is new is that the vehicles are smaller. A smaller tunnel with traditional technology can be built faster,” said Herbert Einstein, professor of engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Michael Manville, associate professor of urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, said it was surprising to him that an underground plan could beat a high rail proposal on cost because the tunnel is usually more expensive.

However, he added that it is difficult to assess the Las Vegas project based on the few details released by Boring.

“It’s kind of a test of the market for him. Can he now build something more commercially viable than what he did with his test tunnel at Hawthorne?” Manville said. There’s nothing inherently interesting about building a tunnel to move people around. That’s what a subway is, isn’t it?”

The convention center aims to complete the transit project in time for an annual trade show in 2021, but Musk tweeted in March that the system would be operational by the end of this year.

Bonny J. Streater