Elon Musk's Las Vegas Loop Tunnel System Is Almost Complete but Can It Replace Underpasses?

Musk eventually wants all vehicles to be fully autonomous with no human intervention and sees the twin tunnel system of Las Vegas Loop as a solution

While SpaceX and Neuralink mainly dominated news headlines, Elon Musk's other start-up, the Boring Company, has "almost completed" it first project in Las Vegas. The start-up digs tunnels in or between cities for autonomous electric vehicles (AEVs) to carry passengers from one point to another.

The aim is to bypass cities' congested traffic routes and faster commute. Traffic congestion is one big problem that authorities have been trying to solve with underground railways, over-head rails and overpasses but while all those solutions have eased the congestion, the real issue remains unresolved.

Loop Tunnel System
Boring Company's Loop Tunnel system aims to carry passengers at high speed to reduce traffic congestion Boring Company/ YouTube screengrab

Musk believes digging up tunnels will not only solve the problem but will also save time and energy besides easing pollution (air and sound). "Tunnels are the solution to traffic. You can have as many levels as you want. Usable tunnel depth far exceeds tallest buildings, so would work even for New York or Beijing," Musk said in a tweet.

'Almost Done'

After inaugurating a one-mile (1.6 kilometers) test tunnel in 2018 at SpaceX's Hawthorne headquarters in California, the Boring Company was awarded its first commercial project in Las Vegas, Nevada. The loop tunnel system will carry passengers in self-driving cars between two destinations in Las Vegas within minutes. The initial tests conducted in its pilot project showed that it would take just a minute and a half to commute between two points while for conventional road traffic, it would take over five minutes with a maximum speed of 155 miles (249 kmph) per hour.

"Tunnels under cities with self-driving cars will feel like warp drive. First operational tunnel under Vegas almost done," Musk tweeted.

Las Vegas Loop
Las Vegas Loop's first twin-tunnel project is nearing completion Boring Company

In May, the company completed a twin-tunnel system near the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC). The $52.5 million Las Vegas project will be capable of commuting over 4,000 passengers every hour while using mostly Tesla Model 3 and Model X vehicles with drivers.

Musk eventually wants the vehicles to be fully autonomous with no human intervention involved. He hopes, the tunnel system will be built around the U.S., especially in New York City and Washington DC.

"The system has the potential for future expansion and connectivity to resorts on the Strip, Downtown Las Vegas, McCarran International Airport, and beyond," the Las Vegas authority said in July 2020.

Las Vegas Loop
Las Vegas Loop is estimated to cost around $50 million Boring Company

Is It Cost-Effective?

The tunnel system, for now, seems to be the only solution to ever-increasing traffic congestion in highly populated cities. The test tunnel was built at a cost of $10 million while the twin tunnels of 0.8 miles each estimated to cost around $50 million. If the cost is actually true, it will be one of the affordable tunnel systems.

At present, the conventional two-way underpass or subway systems (not underground railway tunnels) cost around $243 million per mile at least while the New York East Side Access costs around a whopping $3.7 billion per mile. If the Boring Company manages to keep the cost down to its original estimate, it will definitely be a revolutionary project.

The start-up is also looking to utilize the excavated dirt for the projects. In typical systems, the dug-up mud is disposed to a different location that incurs more costs and also environmentally harmful. But Boring Company wants to make bricks out of the dirt that could support the tunnels.

"In typical tunneling projects, excavated dirt is shipped offsite to disposal locations. This process is costly, time-consuming, noisy, and can be environmentally hazardous. The Boring Company has developed technologies to recycle the earth," the company said on its website.

However, there is a potential problem as it is not a substitute for traditional underpasses. The reason is that it is not wide enough to support heavy trucks and is aimed at electric vehicles (EVs) only. Until the number of EVs surpasses the fossil-fuel vehicles dramatically, it will still be a fancy system only for people who can afford a car like Tesla.

Related topics : Elon musk Spacex