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August 24, 2019

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If a tunnel transport system thrives at Las Vegas Convention Center, will McCarran to Strip follow?

Las Vegas Convention Center

Mark Damon / Las Vegas News Bureau

A view looking northeast from 100 Convention Center Drive shows phase two of the Las Vegas Convention Center expansion project, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019. An underground tunnel system has been proposed to transport visitors within the convention center.

Las Vegas Convention Center

High-Occupancy Autonomous Electric Vehicle (AEV) running between Exhibit Halls. Courtesy The Boring Company. Launch slideshow »

Proponents of a possible tunneled passenger transport system under the Las Vegas Convention Center say it could spread to other popular destinations in the city’s core.

They also predict it would run in concert with — not in competition with — separate plans for light rail systems in Las Vegas.

Officials from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and The Boring Company on Wednesday outlined plans for a loop — an express underground public transportation tunnel with autonomous electric vehicles — at the expanding convention center campus.

The project, which is expected to go before the LVCVA board later this month, could cost up to $55 million.

While it would initially be confined to the convention center area, officials said the concept could eventually be expanded to move passengers to and from places like McCarran International Airport, the Strip or downtown.

But how would this system impact plans for a Las Vegas Monorail extension or the proposed light rail, both of which would run near the convention center?

“We think there is great demand and we have long talked about congestion,” said Steve Hill, president and CEO of the LVCVA. “The Monorail provides a great service for us and is an important mode of transportation. We certainly don’t think The Boring Company system would crowd out others if it were to expand out into the community.”

The Boring Company, which is based in California and owned by billionaire Elon Musk, would be able to construct the tunnel system in about a year, according to Steve Davis, the company’s president.

Proponents point to the system, if it does gain approval, being done in time for the opening of a $935 million expansion to the convention center in early 2021.

“We see this as an additional means of transportation and another option for our visitors,” Hill said. “There’s a need to be able to respond to increased visitation and interest in Las Vegas.”

Advocates say the tunnel system is needed because the convention center campus will be so big — spanning about 200 acres — and visitors would need to walk nearly 2 miles to go from one end to the other.

If the Boring Company’s concept — similar concepts in other major U.S. cities have fallen flat — does eventually spread beyond the convention center, Tina Quigley, general manager of the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada, said it’s not likely to interfere with any future light rail projects.

“No one mode is going to be able to solve all of our transportation issues,” Quigley said. “It’s going to an ecosystem — we have to have synergy. There are different modes of transportation and what’s going to be important is the connectivity between those modes.”

The commission is currently in the process of finalizing plans for a new light rail system along Maryland Parkway, which would stretch from McCarran to downtown. The public had until Thursday to opine about three different project options and potential environmental impacts.

The plan is for the commission to move forward on one option at some point this spring.

“I see (Maryland Parkway and the Boring Company’s proposal) as two different types of systems altogether,” Quigley said. “Maryland Parkway is about connecting existing centers that we have from a live, work and pedestrian environment. The (speed) of the underground system would be more for moving from destination to destination as opposed to experiencing the infrastructure at grade.”

While the LVCVA wouldn’t charge riders of the convention center campus tunnel, Hill said the plan would be for the Boring Company to collect from riders of a possible expanded system.

Quigley said the convention center tunnel system could be a good way to gauge how — and if — the concept might work on a larger scale in the community.

“We don’t have room for any more lanes at surface level,” Quigley said. “We have to be creative. I’m a big believer in small projects being tested in a controlled environment before moving on to something bigger. This is the best way to see if it will be appropriate to move forward.”

The Boring Company was one of two finalists chosen by a six-person LVCVA panel after a request for proposals was put out for a new transportation system at the convention center. The other company was Doppelmayr/Garaventa Group out of Austria. Underground electric vehicles like the ones that would run under the convention center grounds can reach speeds of up to 155 mph, according to the Boring website.