Get ready to go underground: The Boring Company, Elon Musk's tunnel-digging venture, is expected to hit the halfway point on its first public tunnel this week.
The Las Vegas Review Journal reports that the company's machine is about to emerge from underground, completing the first of two tunnels that will form an approximately two-mile $52.5 million transport system for the Las Vegas Convention Center. When the project was first announced in March 2019, it was expected the tunnel would be completed in time for the annual CES technology show in January 2021.
"[Public opinion is] pretty mixed at this point," Richard N. Velotta, assistant business editor for the Journal who has been following the project's local progress, tells Inverse. "What I find most interesting is that those who are opposed are extremely opposed. Those who support are extremely supportive. No middle-of-the-road here."
Las Vegas is arguably taking a big risk with The Boring Company. Musk founded the firm at the start of 2017 to counteract Las Vegas traffic, based on the logic that a city could dig multiple layers of tunnels and add as much capacity as needed. The end result, unveiled in December 2018 at Hawthorne, California, was a 1.14-mile test track measuring 14 feet wide. Autonomous electric vehicles would be invited to move through the tunnels at speeds of up to 150 mph, with vehicles for pedestrians and cyclists available on request.
The Las Vegas project will likely be the first real-world use of this idea. The company has also explored projects in Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington D.C. with varying success. Virginia's head of transport reportedly dismissed the project in March 2019 as "a car in a very small tunnel," but San Jose mayor San Liccardo was enthusiastic about the project as a cheaper alternative to rail.
Velotta claimed that, as of last week, the machine had tunneled through 3,700 feet of a planned 4,300 feet. The machine will then be disassembled from the west end of the West Hall and moved back to the east end of the South Hall, completing a second tunnel that will ensure bi-directional travel at all times.
Although the Hawthorne tunnel was shown with a Tesla Model X SUV, the Las Vegas loop will use autonomous vehicles based on a Tesla chassis, with room for up to 16 people in its largest configuration. The proposal bears a closer similarity to earlier concept art for the company, where these public-facing people carriers run alongside private cars.
Velotta notes, however, that several question marks remain around the project. The Boring Company has been relatively tight-lipped about construction despite the use of public funds. It's unclear how passengers will board the vehicles, how many vehicles the tunnel will use, and how the planned "platoon" service would work where vehicles follow each other closely like a pseudo-subway.
The Boring Company has also not provided public information about the proposed next step, where the system would expand to form part of a broader, city-serving transit system:
Velotta tells Inverse that opinion is sharply divided. One of those against is Mayor Carolyn Goodman, who was the only person on the 14-strong Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority board to vote against the proposal. Goodman cited the fact that the system is largely untested, making it an expensive risk. Due to these concerns, the contract includes a number of disincentives to ensure The Boring Company would be liable if the authority lost business over the system not working.
"On the other side, there are huge supporters, both of the Boring system and Mr. Musk," Velotta says. "They point out that Las Vegas, as a gambling city, has always taken big risks to capitalize on big rewards. This project is just such an instance."
Whether the gamble will pay off remains to be seen.