Out of Control Policy Blog

Electric Vehicles Infrastructure but What about the Roads and Bridges?

An interesting article in the Washington Post about the building of the infrastructure (read plug in places) for electric vehicles leads to some interesting thoughts. According to the article there are only 465 public electric refueling (plug in) stations across the country today.   

So stimulus funds will help the situation as to the number of “plug in places.”  The initiative, called the EV Project, was launched in October 2009 with $99.8 million in stimulus funds. The grant covered the installation of home charging stations -- which cost about $2,200 each -- for 4,700 buyers of the Leaf and a handful of public stations.  Ecotality, a Tempe, Ariz.-based electric-transportation company is deploying 15,000 free electric-car chargers this fall in 13 cities. The company was awarded another grant of $15 million a few weeks ago to add new locations and another company called Coulomb Technologies  also received a $15 million stimulus grant to also deploy chargers. 

“Our project is designed to really look at what we need to do to make electric-vehicle infrastructure sustaining as a business," said Don Karner, president and chief executive of Ecotality North America. Each charger, he said, contains technology to track energy consumption for analysis. Ecotality will also test various revenue models at commercial stations to determine what works best for consumers. The research will be published on the Idaho National Engineering Lab's Web site for access by charger manufacturers and suppliers.

But not everyone is keen on the potential of electric vehicles or the idea of the government shelling out millions to drive the market. "Why aren't we [using this money to] upgrade crumbling bridges and crumbling roads?" asked Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.

We have been struggling with transportation funding for some years. Transportation trust funds at both the federal and state level derive their revenues from taxes paid on each gallon of gasoline.  The trust fund revenues are used to build and maintain our roads and bridges.  As cars have become more fuel efficient we have seen a decline in monies coming into the trust funds. As more electric-vehicles come into the fleet (remember they use the same roads and bridges) the impact will be exasperated. 

So how do we find the monies for the transportation trust funds?

We are approaching the point where we need to ask some hard questions and think about how we pay for transportation infrastructure.  Is it time to take a hard look at simply charging for each mile driven on the highways? 

Shirley Ybarra is Senior Transportation Policy Analyst


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