The future of transportation is electric, and the states are zooming ahead on plans to make plugging in a snap on the nation’s interstate system.
All 50 states plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico have submitted plans to build out electric vehicle charging stations with funds from the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed last November, says Alex Schroeder, interim director of the newly formed Joint Office of Energy and Transportation.
What we’re talking about here is two of the engineering marvels of the last century: the interstate highway system and the electric power grid. — Alex Schroeder, Joint Office of Energy and Transportation
“This really is our future, in terms of future employment, future ways to get around. This is something that really touches everyone,” he told a session at the NCSL Legislative Summit on Wednesday. “We’re not building yesterday’s infrastructure or today’s infrastructure. We’re really building for tomorrow.”
Created by the infrastructure bill, the joint office is an innovative collaboration of the departments of Energy and Transportation to maximize the resources of both agencies to electrify the nation’s highways, Schroeder says.
“What we’re talking about here is two of the engineering marvels of the last century: the interstate highway system and the electric power grid,” he says. “We’re overlaying those on top of each other and really making them work with each other.”
State plans address federal guidelines to place EV charging stations every 50 miles along interstate highways. Other federal funds will go to build charging stations on other roadways, low- and no-emission grants for transit and electric school bus programs.
The office expects to have all 52 plans certified by the end of September, which will unlock initial funding.
The States Are Ready. But Is the Grid?
Schroeder says there’s more than $50 billion in the infrastructure bill to modernize the grid and make it more flexible. “Certainly we need to be making upgrades in tandem, and we plan on doing that.”
Solutions including solar and on-site battery storage will help reduce the impact on the grid, he says.
When it comes to addressing climate impacts, encouraging electric vehicle use is one strategy, but not the only one, Schroeder says.
“We can’t electrify our way out of the climate crisis,” says Colorado Sen. Faith Winter, chair of the Senate Transportation and Energy Committee. “Electrification is one piece. We have to do everything we can to reduce vehicle-mile traffic. That’s everything from increased shared rides to increased public transit that actually works to move people from where they are to where they want to be. We’re behind on that.”
Winter says Colorado passed groundbreaking legislation that asked all road users to pay a little more.
“We wanted to future-proof our transportation system,” she says, adding that the state had not increased the gas tax since 1991. “The transportation sector is changing rapidly in terms of usage, which also means we have to change how we fund it and what it looks like in the future.”
Think of it as a transportation “organism” rather than a system, suggests Florida Sen. Jeff Brandes. “This is an organism that’s going to be facing challenges and is going to have to adapt and adjust. If you start taxing certain aspects of mobility and transportation, then they will shift to states that do not (tax) or that tax less.”
Changes need to start today, and the conversations around transportation and climate change need to take place in the same room, Winter says. “It’s not just infrastructure. We all need to come together to figure it out.”
Lisa Ryckman is an associate director in NCSL’s Communications Division.