Las Vegas on board for Elon Musk underground transit plan

Business | 6 Mar 2019 8:28 pm

Entrepreneur Elon Musk’s dream of an express tunnel transit system could finally become a reality in Las Vegas after major setbacks in other cities.

Las Vegas’ tourism agency announced Wednesday it is recommending that an enterprise backed by the divisive billionaire receive a contract to build and operate an underground tunnel system through which autonomous electric vehicles would whisk people around a mega convention center, and in the future, possibly the city’s famous casino-filled corridor.

If approved, the system of just over a mile long would debut by January 2021 at the facility, which hosts more than 1 million people every year. The Musk-owned The Boring Company would build the project costing from US$35 million to US$55 million.

It’s different from his beleaguered efforts to build underground tunnel systems in other cities because Musk will be paid for it if the contract is approved. Projects in Los Angeles and Chicago have drawn opposition and skepticism from residents and officials about whether they will actually open.

Musk has faced recent blowback because of his behavior and tweeting habits. He has had dust-ups with stock market regulators and agreed last year to step down as chairman of the board of Tesla, his electric car company.

But Las Vegas tourism officials are ready to get on board with a Musk project.

"It’s really innovative. I think it will be an attraction in and of itself, frankly,” Steve Hill, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, told The Associated Press.

Details of the project have not been finalized. But Hill said the system will probably have three or four stations, each situated at entrances to the convention center’s halls. People would be carried to the hall of their choice in electric vehicles moving through parallel tunnels, each running in one direction.

The fleet could include Tesla’s Model X and Model 3 and a vehicle with capacity for about 16 people, Hill said. All vehicles would be fully autonomous, meaning they won’t have backup human drivers.

The Las Vegas Convention Center, which attracts worldwide gatherings including the premier Consumer Electronics Show, is undergoing an expansion. When finished, convention attendees could log about two miles walking from one end to the other. The distance led officials to look for a transportation solution.

The service within the convention center is expected to be free for people attending events.

The convention center is operated by the authority, which is funded by a county room tax and is responsible for promoting the destination around the world. The tourism agency is governed by a board of directors.

The authority is expected to present to the board the recommendation to select Musk’s company March 12. If approved, Hill said the agency hopes to return to the board with a full design and proposed contract by June.

Musk in December unveiled a test tunnel built under a Los Angeles suburb, allowing reporters and guests to take rides. It came almost two years to the day after Musk announced on Twitter that "traffic is driving me nuts” and he was "going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging.”

"I am actually going to do this,” he added in response to initial skepticism. Soon after, he began The Boring Company, tongue in cheek intentional.-AP

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