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People mover project officially gets moving as tunneling commences at Las Vegas Convention Center

With a mere button press, Las Vegas literally tunneled its way into history at the Las Vegas Convention Center by triggering a potential “Kitty Hawk-type moment.”

Well, Wright on, Vegas!

“This community should take pride in what we’re doing here today,” said Steve Hill, CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA, which produces Las Vegas Newswire) on Nov. 15. That’s when his finger-push on the start button helped kick The Boring Company’s giant drill into action in a 44-foot-wide pit dwelling 42 feet below the surface to begin tunneling out the convention center’s new $52.5 million underground people-mover transportation system.

And it’s when Hill declared his hope that history will eventually record it as a moment in the same realm as when Orville and Wilbur pioneered modern aviation.

“This type of technology has the ability to change transportation not only here at the Convention Center (LVCC), which is important to us and in Las Vegas, but also around the country and around the world,” Hill added at the ceremonial event in front of the convention center’s South Hall. (Story continues below.)

Hill was joined by co-button-presser Steve Davis, president of founder Elon Musk’s Boring Company, and LVCVA board chairman and Clark County Commissioner Larry Brown, to witness the start of construction. Reporters at the event were escorted several flights down to the scaffolding surrounding construction for a brief peek at the setup.

“Through the vision of Elon Musk and the leadership of Steve Davis, we celebrate today a new dawn in how we are going to move people,” Brown said of the tunneling, which Boring officials say will likely not be audible aboveground because of its largely noiseless, electric-powered drill. 

Here’s the fast facts on the system, the contract for which was approved by the LVCVA’s board of directors last May:

  • As the first commercial project for The Boring Company —an infrastructure and tunnel construction company, based in Hawthorne, Calif., and created by Musk in December 2016 — the “loop”-system people-mover will transport convention attendees throughout the 200-acre campus.
  • The system will be comprised of twin, 12-foot-wide vehicular tunnels of .83 miles each, tunneled out at a rate of 100 feet per day. The boring machine spearheading the work is 275 feet wide, with a cutter head weighing 25 tons.
  • It will include three passenger stations linking the current 3.2 million square feet of convention space with the LVCC’s new 1.4-million-square-foot West Hall that is now under construction as well, as part of an overall $1.52 billion expansion and renovation.
  • Riders will be whisked across the campus — free of charge — in autonomous, all-electric Tesla vehicles capable of holding up to 16 people.
  • Though the system could handle vehicles racing at speeds of up to 150 miles per hour, they will instead travel at a 35-mph limit, which is safer given the short length of the tunnels, delivering riders to their destination in under two minutes.
  • The system will be capable of transporting at least 4,400 passengers per hour.
  • The targeted completion date is January 2021, to coincide with that year’s massive CES convention.
  • After completion, there will be discussions of the system’s potential for expansion to link to visitor attractions in Downtown Las Vegas, the Strip, McCarran International Airport and other locations throughout the community.

“The Boring Company is incredibly excited and incredibly honored to have its first commercial project here at the Las Vegas Convention Center,” Davis said at the ceremony, particularly praising the speed with which it has moved from idea to reality. “The proposals and all of the diligence was going on in the February-March timeframe. We’re seven, eight months later and we’ve gone from a concept and a proposal to a 42-feet-deep pit and a tunnel boring machine ready to go. That kind of speed in a project is fantastic.”

Convenience and practicality are the system’s greatest assets, as Hill detailed in describing the logistics that will accompany the overall expansion of the LVCC campus. “With the expansion, it’s about a mile and a quarter from one end of the campus to the other as the crow flies and you can’t walk the campus as the crow flies and you have to cross a couple of streets and some people can’t do that and many of us don’t want to,” he said.

“In order to see a full show across the campus, you don’t want to walk 45 minutes to get from one end of the show to the other. … We really felt The Boring Company offered a solution to people movement on the campus that was substantially more affordable, substantially more convenient, more fun, frankly, and offered an opportunity for the destination.”

It’s one that is also environmentally-friendly, as both the drill and the cars that will occupy the tunnel are all-electric. “This is as sustainable a method of transportation as you’re going to find,” Hill said. 

In addition to being logistically sensible, it’s also a potential commercial benefit as well. It’s not just a people-mover, it’s also … a ride. And who doesn’t love a new way to ride? “For a while it’s going to be an attraction in and of itself,” Hill said.

“People are going to want to ride it. So we have been talking about (how) on days when shows are not in the building, how to make it available to the public here in Las Vegas and to our visitors so they can get a sense of what this is all about. … It will be one more reason for people to come to a show at the Las Vegas Convention Center.”

Yes, the shows and the LVCVA’s customers — whose presence on the campus, while being the LVCVA’s bread and butter, is also a construction complication, albeit one everyone considers necessary, as work ceases when shows are up and running. “The project would be done more quickly if our customers and their shows weren’t the highest priority here at the Convention Center,” Hill said.

“They are having to work around the shows that are in the Convention Center, which does serve to slow the project down, but The Boring Company understood that.”

As Las Vegas growth and innovation barrel forward unabated, two potential issues — congestion and gridlock — loom large, which is why Hill envisions a subterranean transit operation as a potentially effective long-term corrective. Once proven safe and efficient as an LVCC transportation system, the plan is to discuss expanding it into the larger Las Vegas community.

“We can’t solve all our congestion problems on surface streets — we’re out of room,” Hill said, noting that within one mile of the intersection of Tropicana and the Strip, there will be 140,000 seats in six venues, all attempting to hold events simultaneously, a potentially major vehicular/pedestrian snarl that a people mover could alleviate.

“You have to think three-dimensionally,” he said. “This project gives us the opportunity to do that. It has to move enough people to move the needle both on the congestion here (at the LVCC campus) and the destination.”

Brown, who is also chairman of the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada, addressed the overall transportation issues in the near future.

“Basically, we don’t know what the transportation industry is going to look like in the next few years, never mind the next decade,” he said, noting the proliferation of Uber and Lyft and autonomous vehicles.

“The challenge is, as a public agency, where do we invest?” Brown said. “Do we invest in roads? Do we invest in technology? Do we invest in different types of modes? It’s a question that is unanswered throughout this country. … Especially with the Strip and our tourism industry, we have to make sure that as the Convention Authority and as local officials, we maintain that (regarding) our visitors and their mobility, that they get around this valley in a safe and efficient manner.”

Calling the people mover “bold,” “creative” and “innovative,” Brown added that Las Vegas is its natural birthplace. “This project belongs in Las Vegas, and you know why,” he told assembled guests and the media. “We keep raising the bar. It’s fitting that it’s part of what we are continuing to grow into as a community.”

To offer feedback on this story or suggestions for future stories on Las Vegas Newswire, contact Managing Editor Steve Bornfeld at SBornfeld@lvcva.com.

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by Steve Bornfeld/Las Vegas Newswire

by Steve Bornfeld/Las Vegas Newswire