Elon Musk finishes digging Las Vegas ‘loop’ train
Not all of Elon Musk’s projects have been thwarted by the coronavirus pandemic. While the billionaire clashed this week with local officials over restarting production at a Tesla Inc. factory in California, his tunnel-drilling company hit a new milestone in Nevada.
A giant drill called Godot Plus broke through a wall near the spot where it will connect to the Las Vegas Convention Center. The event marked the final phase of excavation for the project’s two main transportation tunnels and will allow Musk’s Boring Co. to collect its next portion of atotal $48.7 million in payment from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
“From a construction standpoint, we’re comfortably in the schedule,” said Steve Hill, the authority’s chief executive officer. In fact, he said Boring Co. is “somewhat ahead,” making him confident that the company’s planned transportation network will be open to the public on time, by January. The milestone comes just one year after the LVCVA approved the project, and the completion of both tunnels signals remarkably speedy progress for major infrastructure construction.
When it’s completed, the tunnels will serve as the core of a transit system connecting the eastern edge of the convention complex’s South Hall to the western edge of a new building a route of just short of a mile. An intermediate stop will serve the central and north exhibit halls. Boring Co. has also been tapped to build a pedestrian tunnel between the South Hall and a nearby parking lot where it will locate a station.
To move passengers around, Boring Co. will use the basic framework of Tesla Model 3 and Model X vehicles, modified to hold up to 16 passengers.
Although construction progressed quickly, Hill said Boring Co. workers took precautions to prevent Covid-19 infection. Those included mandatory checks of workers’ temperatures, mask wearing and social distancing for both Boring Co. and convention center workers, who are currently building out an expansion of the complex, Hill said.
Things have not gone as smoothly for Musk in California, where he’s clashed with local officials over restarting production at a Tesla factory in Fremont. Tesla reopened the factory “against Alameda County rules,” Musk tweeted on Monday. Adding: “If anyone is arrested, I ask that it be only me.” President Trump tweeted his support Tuesday for the factory’s restarting, and local authorities in California haven’t escalated the conflict. But Tesla has had an easier time in Nevada, where its battery-making Gigafactory has ramped production back up with little fanfare.
The Boring Co. transit system in Las Vegas is slated to come online in time for the Consumer Electronics Show in January. However, with a succession of trade groups cancelling conferences around the world, it is unclear whether CES will be held in-person in 2021, even though its organizers say it will move ahead with provisions such as extra cleaning and more space between seats.
If people do attend CES and other conventions in person, they may do so in smaller numbers and will likely be more cautious about how they travel.
“Will tourists want to use underground travel after Covid-19?” asked Stephen Miller, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “People need confidence they will be safe. That will take time.”
Hill, the convention center CEO, said that the Boring Co. transportation system meets public safety standards because it allows passengers to ride solo, or with pre-selected groups. At first the modified Teslas used as vehicles will require drivers, but eventually they’ll run autonomously, allowing for greater social distancing. Hill also said the vehicles will be disinfected regularly if the coronavirus is still prevalent when the system, dubbed the “Loop,” opens to the public.
“When we chose the Boring Co.’s system, we did not choose it with a health threat like the coronavirus in mind,” Hill said. But he added that the Loop’sfeatures will “allow our visitors to feel more secure using it.”
Boring Co.’s payment for the Las Vegas project depends on it hitting certain targets. Up next, the company will need to secure a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy by Oct.1. Clearing that hurdle will require completing internal tunnel infrastructure so that vehicles can run a complete cycle underground. After that, Boring will have to run tests and hit capacity targets.
So far, including the payment resulting from today’s milestone, Boring has earned about $15 million from the project.
The Las Vegas convention authority’s general fund is picking up the tab, mostly using proceeds from hotel room taxes in the city. The simultaneous $935million convention center expansion comes from a separate allocation approved by Nevada legislators. Rides on the future Boring Co. service will be free to convention-goers.