Some of Elon Musk’s craziest, most futuristic ideas start on Twitter. “Traffic is driving me crazy. I’m going to build a tunnel boring machine and start digging…”, The billionaire tweeted in December 2016. Thus was born The Boring Company, whose goal was to build underground tunnels to end traffic jams in big cities like Los Angeles. But six years later, the only tunnels open to the public were running just 1.7 miles (about 2.7 kilometers) under the Las Vegas Convention Center.
The system, called the LVCC Loop, only works when conferences like CES, the world’s largest electronics show, are taking place this week in the Nevada city. In total, it has three stations: two on the surface and one underground. Although the trips between them are now free, many of the employees consulted by EL PAÍS do not rule out that they will cost money in the future. This newspaper tried to contact the company, which has not yet issued a statement in this regard.
At LVCC West Station, music plays in the background and several workers in radiant yellow vests give directions to CES attendees. “It is only possible to go to the Central Station because the South Station is closed today,” says one of them, who did not specify the reason. Then he tells them where to wait for the car. If a person is traveling alone, he or she may be accompanied by other passengers in the back. Every few seconds new cars arrive at the station. They came out of a tunnel and they’re all black, white, and gray Teslas.
Most drivers wear an earphone in one ear while some wear a cap that says “Loop of Vegas”. Please greet passengers and confirm their destination. “I will get you a half mile on foot (about 800 metres) in about 30 seconds,” says Brian, an American driver who has worked for The Boring Company since June 2022. Walking, according to Google Maps, this route between LVCC West Station and Central Station takes about 10 minutes.
His work is “fantastic,” Brian says: “I get to meet people, drive a car that costs tens of thousands of dollars, plus it’s exciting to be a part of something new.” From LVCC West station, it descends down a hill and into a circular tunnel. The path, which has several straight lines and slight curves, is very short. Despite the fact that Musk predicted in 2018 a future in which cars could spin in a tunnel at a speed of about 240 kilometers per hour, in tests conducted by this newspaper, the car reached only 36 miles per hour. That is about 57 kilometers per hour.
On the ground, on the sides, there are strips of lights that change color and add a futuristic touch to the entire tunnel, which light up in pink, green, blue or yellow. Sometimes other cars are glimpsed ahead. These tunnels, which were built in about a year with drilling machines, cost about $47 million, according to The Boring Company. When driving through, there is hardly any space on the sides. Alberto Nunez, a Mexican who had been driving these cars for six months, confirmed that in an emergency, any car could be removed within five minutes. “Traffic will never stop because one car can push another,” he says.
While driving, Núñez looks at a large screen at the front of the car. In it, images captured by cameras outside the vehicle are displayed, along with other information such as speed, if passengers are wearing seat belts or if visibility is limited. For this driver, the main advantage of extending these tunnels through Las Vegas or other cities is that they will avoid traffic on busy streets like the Strip.
It remains to be seen if Musk has been able to move these tunnels to other locations, as proposed projects in Los Angeles, Chicago and Baltimore have all been abandoned, according to various media reports. Still, the Las Vegas project is very different from what Musk envisioned. The Tesla founder stated in 2018 that cars It will be equipped with wheels that adapt to the tunnel railsbut also seems to have discarded this idea.
In addition, when he presented a prototype of these tunnels in Los Angeles (California), he emphasized that only electric and self-driving vehicles could use them. At the moment, there is a driver for the vehicles. However, Nunez predicts that perhaps “one day you’ll leave the airport and a car with no one in it will take you where you need to go.” “I think not having drivers will make the service cheaper because it’s a lot of work for us to be here,” admits Brian.
Up to 4,400 passengers per hour
The LVCC Loop opened in 2021 and, according to The Boring Company, has been played at every convention since. At the 2021 SEMA Auto Show, it transported “between 24,000 and 26,000 passengers per day.” Last year at CES, it was used by “between 14,000 and 17,000 people every day, with an average travel time of less than two minutes and a wait time of less than 15 seconds.” Steve Hill, president of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), tweeted in 2021 The system can continue 4400 passengers per hour.
John Merrill, an Indiana attendee at CES, traveled through these underground tunnels in a Tesla Model 3. “It’s a nice little tunnel system, which I think would work in other cities like Barcelona,” he says. For Eddie Avila, from Honduras, “The only advantage is you don’t have to walk it’s fast.” Although he stresses that he loves to walk, he considers that these types of systems are needed in Las Vegas: “We have bad traffic and it would be beneficial for us, for example, to go to the airport.”
Yeji Kim, who is attending the exhibition from South Korea, points out, “It is faster to go through these tunnels than by road, as there are no hotels or traffic lights in between.” But what he likes most is that since they are electric cars, “they seem very environmentally friendly”. None of these helpers found any problem with the system. As Kim points out, “On one trip it’s hard to spot potential downsides.”
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