July 18, 2023

Boring Co. wants Vegas Loop expansion

 A Tesla car is driven through the West Station near the Las Vegas Convention Center West Hall expansion during a media preview of the Las Vegas Convention Center Loop on 2021. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The Boring Co., already permitted to construct a labyrinth of tunnels beneath Southern Nevada, is asking the City of Las Vegas to approve an expansion to the Vegas Loop before it’s opened a single tunnel within city limits.

TBC has encountered obstacles in other municipalities where it offered burrowed, autonomous vehicles as an alternative to bumper-to-bumper traffic, then later substituted chauffeured Teslas. Most of the deals have soured.

But in Southern Nevada, local governments, which are getting a piece of the action, have hailed the caliche-busting operation as one-part traffic innovation, one-part tourist attraction – albeit a slow one. Passenger-carrying Teslas are limited by the short length of the tunnels to traveling 40 mph. Digging is also proceeding at a snail’s pace, with the recently completed stretch of 2,350 feet from the Las Vegas Convention Center to the Encore taking ten weeks, according to the company.

Aside from $52 million paid by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority for its tunnels,  no public money is being used to fund the Vegas Loop.

In fact, local governments are anticipating a windfall.

The city and Clark County have franchise agreements with TBC that entitle the governments to revenue from rides originating in their jurisdictions. Clark County receives .5% of quarterly gross revenue up to $17.5 million and 5% of gross revenue in excess of that amount. The city has a similar agreement.

The proposal to amend the city’s plan, which goes before the council Wednesday, comes as city engineers question the tunneling’s potential impact on high-rise structures, such as the Stratosphere, balk at TBC’s attempt to impose height restrictions on buildings atop the tunnels, and express frustration over TBC’s reliance on foreign measurements.

“Regretfully, we do not use EU/Switzerland design codes/manuals,” Nenad M. Mirkovic, a civil engineer, wrote earlier this year in comments on a TBC permit application. “It would be prudent practice [to] utilize codes, standards, referenced codes and design aids that have been used/developed in the USA.”

Mirkovic noted that soils near high-rise structures “warrant additional engineering evaluation” because the “proximity of foundation to proposed tunnel may modify the response of Strat tower (and/or other structures),” and high-rise structures “may modify dynamic response of a proposed tunnel.”

“And again in the area where [the] tunnel is constructed, it is NOT acceptable to the City to limit construction to only six (6) story structures,” he wrote, adding the city is engaged in redevelopment. “Therefore, please re-design [the] tunnel system so that there are no constraints on the adjacent properties, constraints that will limit the building height, type of construction, assembly, number of stories, etc., etc.”

Mirkovic also raised concerns about fire safety, inquiring about evacuation plans and “whether the Tesla vehicles that transport passengers would be equipped to extinguish fires from the vehicles’ lithium batteries…”

Those concerns did not come up at a recent planning commission meeting on the proposed expansion.

“We’ve got about 2.2 miles of tunnel that’s currently constructed and operational. …All successful with a passenger rating of 4.9 out of 5,” Tyler Fairbanks of TBC told the city planning commission last month, adding the system recently surpassed 1 million passengers.

The operational tunnels are located in unincorporated Clark County, with four passenger terminals at the Las Vegas Convention Center and a fifth at the nearby Resorts World.

Tunneling is complete, according to the company, on routes to the Westgate, a resort adjacent to the Convention Center, and to Encore, which is several blocks west on Las Vegas Blvd. and is expected to be operational in 2024, according to the hotel.

“Encore and Westgate have to apply for build out and stations,” Clark County spokesman Erik Pappa said.

 Light blue lines show the Boring Co.’s proposed additional routes. TBC is asking the Las Vegas City Council to approve new passenger terminals, too, indicated by light blue dots. Dark blue dots represent approved passenger terminals. 

“The Encore station has been finalized and the entrance will be steps away from the Encore main entrance,” Wynn spokesman Michael Weaver said via email. “We are currently considering the location for [a station at] Wynn.”
TBC’s map indicates three passenger terminals at Wynn Las Vegas and Encore.

The original plan for the Vegas Loop called for 29 miles and 51 stations. In May, Clark County approved an additional 25 miles and 18 stations, bringing the total to 69 stations. The city proposal would increase that number to 81.

TBC and its attorney, Stephanie Allen, declined to say how many of the projected passenger stations are under contract.

According to county records, one passenger terminal has been approved at Russell and Las Vegas Blvd., blocks from Allegiant Stadium.

County records also indicate a building permit for the Vegas Loop and for a passenger terminal at Caesars Palace have been withdrawn. Caesars Entertainment did not respond to requests for information on its plans for the Vegas Loop.

Tourist attraction or mass transit?

The proposal before the city is an amendment to a special use permit approved in 2020. It  includes plans for 13 new passenger terminals, including one at Palace Station, a second terminal at the Stratosphere, and another across the street on the east side of Las Vegas Blvd. and Oakey, an area within walking distance of some of the city’s oldest neighborhoods.

“It is expected that fare-paying passengers will be transported underground between various destinations in autonomous electric vehicles,” says the city agenda item. The vehicles, however, are not autonomous. Tesla’s autopilot efforts have been slowed by the Department of Justice and reports of deaths. The Teslas in the operating tunnels adjacent to the Convention Center have human drivers.

The franchise agreements allow the Boring Co. to charge fares and modify them, without approval. TBC is also permitted to “establish promotional and fare programs and to enter into arrangements with hotel and resort owners for discounted and/or free use of the Monorail by patrons.”

It’s unknown whether hotel workers and other locals would be eligible for discounted rides.

Clark County Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick told Boring Co. executives in May that she wants a plan to shuttle workers, not just tourists.

In a 2018 tweet, Elon Musk, the mercurial founder of TBC, agreed.

“Adjusting The Boring Company plan: all tunnels & Hyperloop will prioritize pedestrians & cyclists over cars,” Musk wrote. “Will still transport cars, but only after all personalized mass transit needs are met. It’s a matter of courtesy & fairness. If someone can’t afford a car, they should go first.”

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