Dig this trip into hot tunnel project

The trip underground takes 3½ minutes in an elevator built to carry up to 22 people.

If you turned the Aria upside down and buried it, this would be a ride to the penthouse.

And you’re not even there yet.

It takes real work to get to the end of the new water intake now under construction at Lake Mead, a project some have called the most complicated tunneling job on Earth.

From the elevator, you descend a flight of stairs and climb inside a metal box on wheels for another three-minute ride, this time on a small railroad built 600 feet below ground.

The rails carry you through a 20-foot-tall concrete pipe now roughly two-thirds of a mile long and still more than two miles from completion.

At the end of the line, the train angles upward slightly as it drives onto the rear of the massive tunnel-boring machine — 600 feet long and as heavy as 300 elephants — that was specially built in Germany to dig the Southern Nevada Authority’s new straw into the lake.

You’ll be sweating long before you get there.

A COMMUNITY LIFELINE

Once finished, the third intake is expected to keep water flowing to Las Vegas even if Lake Mead shrinks low enough to leave one of the community’s two existing straws high and dry.

The surface of the reservoir now sits at 1,106 feet above sea level. The latest federal projections call for it to drop 25 feet over the next year, to a record low not seen since Hoover Dam was finished and Lake Mead was filled for the first time.

If the lake keeps falling like it is, the authority could lose the use of intake No. 1 sometime in late 2015, when the reservoir hits the 1,050-foot mark.

The valley draws 90 percent of its drinking water from the lake.

The third intake is scheduled for completion by the end of next summer, but it’s “unlikely” that general contractor Vegas Tunnel Constructors will be done by then, says engineer Erika Moonin, project manager for the water authority.

She declines to speculate when it might be finished, except to say that “we’re confident we’ll get the project done and on line before intake No. 1 shuts down.”

The inside of the tunneling machine resembles the engineering space on a ship or submarine, with narrow metal walkways snaking past a maze of pipes, cables, control boxes and electric motors.

There’s machine noise and grime and dripping water, but there’s no sensation of depth or forward movement. You don’t feel the cutter head cutting or the weight of the rock and water looming above your head.

What you feel instead is heat, much of it generated by the grinding of the boring machine itself. A digital thermometer mounted along a metal railing delivers the bad news: 100 degrees. 28 percent humidity.

“Singapore in August,” says water authority spokesman J.C. Davis.

“I spend a lot of time thinking about my pool when I’m underground,” jokes Robin Rockey, the authority’s liaison to the project.

The contractor tries to cool the tunnel with an air conditioning unit big enough to cool most Strip resorts, but it doesn’t do much more than “take the edge off,” Moonin says.

The current mining crew includes about 100 people divided among three shifts. There is work going on underground 24 hours a day, six to seven days a week.

Workers spend their entire shift in the hole, including their lunch breaks.

“No cafeteria,” Moonin says with a laugh.

A RING AT A TIME

As the machine digs, a conveyor belt carries crushed rock back through the tunnel and dumps it into buckets to be lifted up the vertical access shaft to the surface.

One bucket holds 20 cubic yards of material, enough to landscape the yards of four average valley homes. Instead, this rock and dirt is being shaped into a berm that will partially shield the site from view once the third intake is finished.

The material coming out of the hole right now resembles gritty brown mud.

Each time the machine advances, the pipe behind it grows by 6 feet as a new ring of concrete is added just behind the giant digger’s shielded front section.

Each ring is made up of six preformed segments weighing 5 or 6 tons apiece. It will take roughly 2,400 rings to line all three miles of tunnel.

The utility lines, air ducts and conveyor belts that service the boring machine, also must be extended as it inches farther and farther away from the vertical access shaft.

The laser-guided digger is “steered” from a cramped control cabin about 100 feet from the cutter head, where a pair of workers scan a bank of screens and monitor radio traffic from all corners of the work site.

Eventually, the machine will come within about 50 feet of the lake bottom as it tunnels beneath the channel carved by the old Las Vegas Wash back when it flowed all the way to the untamed Colorado River.

The boring machine’s journey will end at an intake structure that Vegas Tunnel Constructors has already built underwater at the edge of the Colorado’s original alignment, now one of the deepest points in Lake Mead.

At $817 million and counting, this is the single most expensive construction project the water authority has ever undertaken.

Already, it has come at a terrible cost.

On June 11, 2012, worker Thomas Albert Turner, 44, was killed in a construction accident inside the tunnel. Stickers with the words “Tommy Turner” printed over the Superman logo decorate the guard shack and several hard hats at the work site.

Moonin says underground mining is such a specialized trade that workers often travel from job to job, forming a tight-knit group, almost like a family.

DEEP UNDER WATER

The project reached a milestone about eight weeks ago, when the machine dug beneath the shore of Lake Mead and tunneled under open water for the first time.

After crossing the shallow tip of Saddle Cove, the boring machine made its way back under dry land, but not for long. In a week or two it will cross the shoreline for the last time and curve gradually to the east for a roughly two-mile run directly beneath the 4 trillion gallon reservoir.

The conditions under the lake shouldn’t be much different than they were next to it. Moonin says the project has been “under the influence” of water almost from the start.

So much water and debris washed into the cavern early on — before the boring machine could be assembled underground — that the contractor had to abandon its first tunnel and dig a new one in a slightly different direction.

What followed was months of painfully slow progress through fractured rock and clay riddled with water-filled gaps that forced the machine to run in “closed mode,” using grout to pressurize the area around the cutter head.

The boring machine finally reached what Moonin calls “good, stable ground” in June and switched to “open mode” for the first time on July 8.

Since then, it has been clipping along at the breakneck pace of about an inch a minute as it carves its way through a uniform block of sedimentary rock that used to be a muddy creek bed roughly 7 million years ago.

After needing roughly 18 months to dig the first 2,850 feet of tunnel, the machine has advanced some 450 feet since early July alone. Monday marked the project’s most productive day yet, with 72 feet of new tunnel mined and 12 new rings added to the pipe.

Moonin hopes the worst ground is now behind them, “but there’s just no way to know with tunneling.”

“We do know there is challenging rock ahead. We won’t know how bad it is until we get there,” she says.

THE WAY OUT

You leave the tunnel the same way you came, only in reverse: A cramped walk back through the machine, then the train, then the elevator .

The noonday sun is blinding at the top of the hole, but the dry air cools your skin. You’ll have to enjoy the feeling someplace else. A man in a hard hat motions to a load of concrete pipe segments suspended from a crane nearby, ready to be lowered down the shaft.

You are in the way.

Contact reporter Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350.

ad-high_impact_4
News
1 dead after shooting near Sahara and the Strip in Las Vegas
Lt. Ray Spencer briefs the news media on a shooting at Sahara Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard South that left one dead. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Family remembers deceased mother
Family members of Adriann Gallegos remember her. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
2 in custody after chase
Two people were in custody after a chase involving Nevada Highway Patrol and Nye County Sheriff"s office deputies ended in southwest Las Vegas. Las Vegas police blocked off Rainbow Boulevard north of Tropicana Avenue around 1 a.m. Wednesday. Law enforcement personnel prepared to tow a black sedan as part of their investigation. It's not certain what precipitated the chase or where and when it started. Check back for updates.
Police Officer's Vehicle Was Taken During Shooting
Video from body worn camera footage released by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Wednesday shows an officer realizing his police vehicle has been taken during the chaos of the Route 91 shooting. It was later recovered at Sunrise hospital with the keys in the ignition and nothing removed. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
See Kitty Hawk’s flying car cruise over Lake Las Vegas
Kitty Hawk takes their flying car for a ride in the company’s hidden test facility in Lake Las Vegas. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Watch Las Vegas police wild pursuit through busy Las Vegas streets
An intense chase near Downtown Las Vegas ends after gunfire is exchanged as the suspect flees on busy streets and ends up near an elementary school. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Man shot strolling through park
A man was hospitalized early Tuesday morning after being shot while walking in a central Las Vegas park. Las Vegas police say the man and a woman were in Molasky Park just after midnight when the man was shot. The pair ran to a nearby supermarket where a security guard called for help. The man was hospitalized and as of 3 a.m. was in stable condition. Police have yet to identify the shooter and no suspects are in custody.
Police investigating shooting at east valley apartment complex
No one was injured late Monday night after someone fired shots at a vehicle at an east valley apartment complex. Police responded just before midnight to the Hamptons Apartments, 3070 S. Nellis Blvd. Someone fired shots at a vehicle that was leaving the complex, and struck the vehicle. Another bullet struck a nearby apartment building. The shooter or shooters remain at-large.
Suspect fires at Las Vegas police before officers shoot, end wild pursuit
An intense chase near Downtown Las Vegas ends after gunfire is exchanged as the suspect flees on busy streets and ends up near an elementary school. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Hundreds Attend Slides, Rides and Rock and Roll in North Las Vegas
Hundreds attended the inaugural slides, rides and rock and roll event in North Las Vegas Saturday. The event featured a car show, water slide park and live music. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
It's All Rainbows At The Center's New Cafe
The Gay and Lesbian Center of Southern Nevada (The Center) introduced its new coffeeshop, Little Rainbow Cafe, in June. Rainbows are everywhere, even in the lattes and toast, and employees wear t-shirts with the quote "Be a rainbow in someone's cloud." Owner Ben Sabouri said the concept is "built around the idea of, you know, be kind and treat everybody the same." (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Get a Rainbow Latte at the The Center's Little Rainbow Cafe
The Center, a community center for the LGBTQ community of Southern Nevada, has a new cafe. Little Rainbow Cafe serves up a pride-inspired signature "Rainbow Latte." (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pedestrian killed trying to cross Sahara
A pedestrian was killed Friday trying to cross Sahara Avenue near Maryland Parkway about 5 a.m. A sedan struck the pedestrian while the person was outside the crosswalk between Maryland Parkway and Pardee Place, according to Las Vegas police. Police also said the driver of the sedan remained at the site of the crash. The pedestrian was pronounced dead at the scene. This is the 75th fatal crash that Las Vegas police have investigated in 2018.
Man shot multiple times
Las Vegas police are investigating after a man was shot multiple times early Friday morning. The shooting was called in about 3:20 a.m. at the Harbor Island Apartments, 370 E. Harmon Ave., near Koval Lane. The man was hospitalized and is expected to survive, but police are still searching for the shooter.
Former Military Police Corps Officer Celebrates 100th Birthday
Summerlin resident Gene Stephens, who served as a military policeman in WWII and escorted then-Gen. Dwight Eisenhower and President Roosevelt during the war, turned 100 on July 13, 2018. He credits his longevity to living a normal life, exercising regularly and eating three square meals a day. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Motorcyclist suffers serious injuries
A motorcycle rider was seriously injured Tuesday night after a crash on Charleston Boulevard. The crash was reported just before 10 p.m. near Durango Drive, according to Las Vegas police. The motorcyclist was hospitalized with unknown injuries but is expected to survive. Las Vegas police are investigating the cause of the accident.
CCSD Superintendent Jesus Jara Has Lunch With Students
New Clark County School District superintendent Jesus Jara continued his listening tour by having lunch with students at Red Rock Elementary School as part of the district's summer lunch program. In conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, children under the age of 18 can find a free lunch at 104 different locations across the valley through the summer months. Jara highlighted the free program and the importance of eating healthy during his visit. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Timeline Leading Up to Scott Dozier's Execution
Scott Dozier is set to be executed by lethal injection the night of July 11 at Ely State Prison. Dozier was convicted of the April 2002 killing of 22-year-old Jeremiah Miller and was given the death penalty in Oct. 2007. In 2016 Dozier asked in a letter to District Judge Jennifer Togliatti requesting that he “be put to death.” A three-drug cocktail of midazolam, a sedative; the painkiller fentanyl; and cisatracurium, a paralytic, is expected to end his life. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New Program Helps Mothers Battling Addiction
Jennifer Stanert has battled drug addiction on and off for the last 21 years. It caused her to lose custody of one of her children, Alec, after she gave birth while high. A new program at Dignity Health St. Rose Dominican Hospitals aims to connect mothers like Stanert with community resources and provide case management services while still pregnant to get connected to lactation and parenting classes, group peer support and education on neonatal abstinence syndrome. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Felon caught with guns in Mandalay Bay room 3 years before Las Vegas shooting
A felon was caught with guns in a Mandalay Bay hotel room three years before the October 1st mass shooting. Six weapons were found inside Kye Aaron Dunbar’s 24th floor room in November 2014. Four were semi-automatic. One was a scoped rifle pointing toward the Strip, according to court documents. Dunbar was sentenced to 40 months in federal prison for unlawful possession. The case just came to light in a lawsuit accusing Mandalay Bay of negligence in connection with the Oct. 1st shooting.
Illegal fireworks in the Las Vegas area garner complaints
Clark County received nearly 25,000 complaints over the Independence Day holiday on a new illegal fireworks site. Reports from the site led to at least 10 illegal fireworks busts across the valley overnight. As of Thursday morning, the county is still compiling the total number of citations issued.
House fire displaces 2 people
Two people were displaced after a house fire early Thursday morning. The fire, at 963 Temple Drive in east Las Vegas, was reported just after midnight, according to a battalion chief from the Clark County Fire Department. Crews from the North Las Vegas and Las Vegas fire departments also were called in to help. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
"Red White and Boom" July 4 Fireworks at the Stratosphere
Full video of the Fourth of July "Red White and Boom" fireworks show at the Stratosphere as seen from the 8th floor Elation Pool. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
July 4th fireworks at the Eureka Casino Resort in Mesquite
July 4th fireworks at the Eureka Casino Resort in Mesquite. (7-04-18) (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Crowds Enjoy Fireworks at the Stratosphere
Revelers enjoyed watching fireworks displays from the Stratosphere's 8th floor Elation pool on July 4. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pedestrian killed in Henderson
A pedestrian trying to cross St. Rose Parkway at Bermuda was hit by a vehicle on Tuesday night and later died. The crash was reported around 11:30 p.m. Las Vegas police responded initially, but handed over the investigation to Henderson police once it was determined the accident happened in their jurisdiction. Las Vegas police did respond to a report of a pedestrian being hit by a vehicle on the Strip. The person, who was hit by a BMW near Fashion Show mall, suffered serious but not life-threatening injuries.
USPS owes $3.5 million for using Vegas Statue of Liberty on stamp
The United States Postal Service has been ordered to pay $3.5 million to a sculptor after using the Las Vegas replica of the Statue of Liberty in a stamp. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
What to expect at Station Casinos' Fourth of July celebration
Station Casinos' is hosting its annual 4th of July celebration with Fireworks by Grucci. Fireworks scheduled to go off on Wednesday, July 4 around 9 p.m. at Green Valley Ranch Resort, Red Rock Resort, Fiesta Rancho and Texas Station. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Officer Brent Horlacher shoots at Jessie Murillo
Las Vegas police video of an officer-involved shooting on June 29, 2018. Officer Brent Horlacher, 28, fired a single shot at suspect Jessie Murillo. Murillo was not injured. The radio audio is of the officer who fired the gun and the body camera video is from a different officer. Radio audio excerpts are added to the video and are not the precise times the audio was spoken.
Pawn Stars' Richard Harrison honored at memorial service
A memorial service was conducted for Richard "Old Man" Harrison at Palm Mortuary in Las Vegas on Sunday, July 1, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
ad-infeed_1
ads_infeed_2
Local Spotlight
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like