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The West Coast Electric Highway: A Path to the Future

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On: Mon, Jan 19, 2015 at 12:10PM | By: Bill Wilson

The West Coast Electric Highway: A Path to the Future

Electric cars have a lot going for them. They're whisper-quiet, highly dependable, and offer freedom from the gas pump. Of course, they have drawbacks as well. For example, try driving cross-country in a battery-powered car. You'll count yourself fortunate to find enough charging stations along the way. Add to this the thorny problems of limited range and high sticker prices, and it's easy to see why electric cars make up only a tiny percentage of American vehicles.

This situation is beginning to change, however, as state governments build the infrastructure needed for battery-powered cars to become practical. A prime example of this trend is the West Coast Electric Highway, also known as I-5, which runs 585 miles across California, Oregon, and Washington state.

The West Coast Electric Highway was made possible by President Obama's 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. These funds were used to install hundreds of charging stations along the route. Most of these units are "quick charge" stations, which operate on 480 V circuits and can replenish a vehicle's batteries in as little as 20 minutes. They will enable drivers to top off their power supply in as little time as it might take them to stretch their legs, visit the restroom, and get a cup of coffee.

The three states partnering in the project are also installing hundreds of additional charging stations on routes leading to nearby commercial and recreational destinations. Some of the more popular attractions along the highway include Mount Hood, the Pacific coastline, and countless hiking trails, historic sites, ski lodges, and scenic vistas.

Using an electric car on the highway offers tremendous savings when compared to driving a gas-powered vehicle. But no one is getting a free ride. Charging stations require per-use fees ranging from $4 to $8 per session.

There's an old saying: "as California goes, so goes the rest of the country." The electric highway is already being seen as a prototype for similar efforts across the United States. The day may soon come when owners of battery-powered vehicles have the same freedom of mobility as drivers of more conventional autos.

The economic and environmental benefits of such a transition would be substantial: cleaner air, less noise pollution, and reduced dependence on foreign governments. In building the West Coast Electric Highway, California and its sister states are blazing a path to a more sustainable future.



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