The Las Vegas Convention Center Loop set to open in January and a second transportation loop planned by Elon Musk’s Boring Company could be the start of what architect Paul Steelman calls “the greatest transportation system in the world.”
Ultimately, the systems will connect the whole city. At the very least, they will let people visiting the new convention center dispense with parking.
The $42.5 million Convention Center Loop includes three stops along the 1.4 miles of the 200-acre expanded convention center campus. Using the Loop will be free for convention attendees. It’s not to be confused with the recently announced seven-mile Las Vegas Loop, although both are being developed by the Boring Company. The Vegas Loop, now in the permitting stage, will be made up of two 40-foot underground one-way tunnels going as far north as Downtown Las Vegas, along the Strip corridor and south to Allegiant Stadium. Passengers will ride through the tunnels in Tesla electric vehicles. At first, they will be driven by humans; eventually, they will become autonomous or self-driving vehicles.
The Musk model works more like an Uber or Lyft. Travelers use an app to call a Tesla car, which will pick them up at any number of locations and whisk them at high speeds to the tunnel and their destination—on their timeline, unlike the mass-transit model with fixed schedules.
It doesn’t need stations. Casinos can simply build loading zones where the Tesla vehicles can pick up passengers and transport them.
Steelman, CEO of Steelman Partners, is designing one of these loading zones for Resorts World Las Vegas. “It’s not just a replacement for taxis, as some have called it, it’s completely revolutionary,” he told GGB News. “Because it doesn’t need a station built, you can build it quickly. Instead of spending many millions for a station, you can spend maybe a million for a loading zone.”
The Las Vegas Loop will be paid for by the Boring Company, with no contribution from taxpayers, said Lori Nelson-Kraft, senior vice president of communications for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), which is funding the Convention Center Loop (working name: the People Mover). “We are facilitating the project. There will be an expense to any of the resorts who want to build a spur to the two one-way tunnels. The only expense the resorts will pay is building out that spur.
“The Boring Company will operate both,” she said. “The company will recoup its investment using a mobile app—like Lyft, you’ll be able to call for your Tesla at a nominal fare. As we begin operations for the Convention Center Loop, they will be driven by drivers until they move to automatous Teslas.”
The Convention Center Loop will provide an easy way for conventioneers and other visitors to move around. Once the $980 million expansion of the Convention Center is completed, it will be one of the top three largest convention centers in North America.
“We are finishing a 1.4 million-square-foot expansion,” Nelson-Kraft said. “When you look at the totality, it will stretch to a one mile walk for attendees, from the South Hall, Central Hall and North Hall. … The Convention Center Loop becomes a seamless way of getting you (around).”
Although the Convention Center Loop will be completed in January, there will be no shows in the building for a while, due to Covid-19. “So we may celebrate it and open it up to show people what it does, but it won’t be operational until the first full convention,” Nelson-Kraft said. The Convention Center Loop is designed to transport 4,400 riders per hour in each direction.
In November, the LVCVA and the Boring Company announced plans for the Las Vegas Loop. The latter is in the early stages of permitting with the city of Las Vegas and Clark County. “Following approvals, it would begin development shortly after,” she said.
The LVCVA also recently announced purchase of the Las Vegas Monorail, which had declared bankruptcy due to the effects of the Covid pandemic on ridership. That means the Boring Company will be able to tunnel under its right of way. The monorail had a non-compete clause in its contract with the city that prevented competitors from using its right of way. Now that issue is closed.
LVCVA won’t be closing the monorail, said Nelson-Kraft. “We’ve always viewed the monorail as an important transportation option. We believe there should be multiple transportation solutions. It has a stop at the Convention Center and has been an integral part of it. When we see the destinations return to full capacity, we’ll restart those operations.”
The Vegas Loop will relieve traffic congestion in the downtown area, she said. “Everything is underground so you’re taking people who might be in a rental car and putting them underground. You’re dramatically easing congestion. On a weekend, in addition to 150,000 rooms filled, there are typically multiple major events going on at one time—major arenas and concert venues with people trying to get to their shows. If you can move people underground and take people off Las Vegas Boulevard, that’s a win for everyone.”
Digging tunnels for transportation is hardly a new thing, but the Boring Company’s advancements in tunneling technology made it possible for something that would have taken many years to complete to be accomplished in a little more than a year.
“Elon Musk is innovative,” said Nelson-Kraft. “He retrofitted the big cutter on the boring machine so the cutters move faster than a traditional one, greatly reducing time to tunnel underground. Our Convention Center Loop, which was almost a mile long each way, would have taken about five to seven years the old way. Ours took 13 months.”
There are also environmental benefits to this system. “You’re using Teslas, with solar panels on the deck rooftops that will charge the vehicles. And the Las Vegas Loop takes more vehicles off the roads and reduces congestion.”
Nelson-Kraft predicts both loops will be great attractions. “When you’re used to sitting in traffic and you can get there in minutes—that’s pretty innovative.”
Don’t compare it to other famous modes of transportation, like San Francisco’s renowned Bay Area Rapid Transit, she added. “BART stops where it stops. The Loop only stops when you get to your destination. There’s no stop and go because it’s a straight tunnel. It saves visitors an enormous amount of time.” The Convention Center Loop will be able to take a visitor from one end of the campus to the other in two minutes.
Will being able to access Las Vegas’s attractions so much faster via the Loop generate more business for the downtown? Or will it just make things more convenient?
“In theory, it could probably accomplish both,” said Nelson-Kraft. “Convenience is definitely a factor, but when you have the ability to take out commute time, you can add more discretionary activity. It gives you more time at that experience or allows you to pack in more.”
She added that the innovation will undoubtedly attract the attention of other city planners. “It’s a first. Vegas is always looked at as that petri dish of what they’re doing now. I know the Boring Company has other plans, but we’re just looking at doing something cool and solving congestion when you have upwards of 300,000 people visiting in a day.”
Steelman is definitely a fan. “The Boring Company has designed a superior transportation system for Las Vegas,” he told GGB News. “Truly we will become the first 5G-connected city. Every project has its own challenges with the placement of the delivery area and how it fits into the system, but as I see it now its concept is perfect for Vegas.
“It’s a super-efficient cool transportation system. I love this tunnel design and layout…. Anyone who rides also will be captivated by its magic. Downtown and the Convention Center will benefit from these connections.” The systems will also save the city costs in road repairs.
Another benefit is that it will help reduce the need for massive parking garages in the city. “We can build and create a better urban environment—a more pedestrian-friendly environment,” said Steelman. “It will lessen the pollution levels in Las Vegas, especially during the colder months.” He credited Steve Hill, CEO of the LVCVA, and Steve Davis, president of the Boring Company, for bringing “this clever, well-thought idea” to Las Vegas.