In January, what will be dubbed the Convention Center Loop will open up in tunnels beneath the Las Vegas Convention Center. The $52 million transportation project, built by Elon Musk’s The Boring Company, will connect the existing center with its $980 million West Hall expansion. The Loop will transport convention attendees across the 200-acre campus in under two minutes in 16 passenger, self-guided Tesla vehicles.
If that’s where the story ends, the Loop would be little more than a nice, but expensive toy.
But Musk does not expect to limit his sights to a convention center campus. He envisions the Vegas Loop expanding the tunnel under the heavily congested Las Vegas Boulevard stretching as far north as downtown Las Vegas, throughout the Strip corridor, and as far south as the Allegiant Stadium. The last stop requires approval by the Stadium Authority, the owner of the stadium.
Given the congested boulevard, this seems like a godsend. “The Vegas Loop will be a game changer for our visitors seeking to quickly access world-class attractions and resorts throughout the destination in a fun and convenient way,” said Steve Hill, LVCVA president and CEO.
The Boring Company recently submitted a special use permit application to the City of Las Vegas and intends to file a land use—design review— application in Clark County, the first steps in the process.
The Boring Company did not respond for comment, but its website says fare prices, while project-specific, will be comparable to or lower than current public transportation fares. How is that possible? The system is low-cost, fast-to-build. In the case of Las Vegas, the Boring Company will fund the construction with stations paid for by the casino resorts that house them. No taxpayer dollars will be used to fund the project, said Erica Johnson, director of communications for the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority.
The vehicles are designed to minimize exposure to airborne diseases such as Covid-19. The cars carry as little as one passenger. This allows Loop passengers to travel with people they know and reduces crowds.
Will it work in Las Vegas? Will it ever happen as conceived? Can it successfully move large numbers of people that seven mile distance in the fraction of time it now takes by above grade vehicles?
“Time has a way of revealing details that make a project like this change some original plans,” said Anthony Marino, a retired executive with the South Jersey Transportation Authority, an adjunct professor at Stockton University and Atlantic City analyst.
If it does work, how applicable is the tunnel system for other casino areas with multiple properties like South Florida and Atlantic City.
In South Florida, the concept could conceivably link the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood with casinos in casinos in Pompano Beach, Coconut Creek, Dania Beach, Hallandale Beach, Miami Gardens, Miami, as well as Hard Rock Stadium and maybe the Orange Bowl, Marlins Park and American Airlines Arena.
Such a system would present a Herculean task even for Musk. The number of miles far exceeds the compressed lineage in Las Vegas. Then there’s the number of jurisdictions with a say in the matter, creating a bureaucratic nightmare.
“This question should be answered via a feasibility study to determine travel demand among these specific types of traffic generators,” said Tish Burgher, communications manager for the Florida Department of Transportation.
A feasibility study such as this may be undertaken by either the Broward County Metropolitan Planning Organization and/or the Miami-Dade County Transportation Planning Organization as part of their Unified Planning Work Program.
“A defined study area, project scope, purpose and need does not currently exist; thus a determination on potential level of support cannot be made at this time,” Burgher said.
The Strategic Miami Area Rapid Transit (SMART) Plan was adopted by the Miami-Dade Transportation Planning Organization in 2016 as the vision for providing premium transit corridors in Miami-Dade County.
Atlantic City has a much smaller footprint than South Florida even if you include the three Marina casinos along with the Boardwalk properties.
Still, the Atlantic City layout is much more difficult to link than Las Vegas, Marino said. But the biggest obstacle to a Musk tunnel: Atlantic City doesn’t need it.
“Atlantic City doesn’t have the traffic problems that the Las Vegas Strip has. Truth is, surface traffic is rarely too onerous to impede movement between the Marina and Boardwalk even in their personal automobiles or in a regular taxi,” Marino said.
And if visitors want to go from point A to point B, they can take a Boardwalk tram, or if time is not of the essence, they can walk or take a rolling chair for nostalgia. Want to go from Caesars to Borgata, take another Atlantic City experience not available elsewhere: the jitney,
Atlantic City has had its share of unique transportation ideas, Marino said. An above grade Mag-Lev frictionless people mover system along the Atlantic City Expressway. Gondolas from the Boardwalk to the Convention Center and beyond. Neither found the financial backing of an Elon Musk. Or the kind of casino and authority support to make it happen, Marino said.