News Article

How Alternative Fuel Corridors Help Shape Electric Transportation in North Carolina and Beyond

August 11, 2022
By Jacob Bolin

We love what we do at Plug-in NC. Not only do we get to engage with our electric vehicle (EV)-driving community across the state, but we have a front-row seat (well, we’re at least in the room, so to speak) for building out charging infrastructure and supporting our electric utilities so that the electrons powering our vehicles become cleaner while remaining reliable and affordable. We advise potential site hosts on charging station considerations, connect them to funding sources and assist state agencies, like the NC Departments of Environmental Quality and Transportation, with their EV initiatives.

For this post, we’re bringing in some of our closest collaborators — North Carolina’s Clean Cities Coalitions — to share insight on an important topic: Alternative Fuel Corridors. Alternative Fuel Corridors might not be circulated often among the EV-driving masses, but they are worth knowing about, and the Clean Cities Coalitions work on them closely with the NC Department of Transportation. This subject is also crucial to understanding North Carolina’s approach to the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Program, which is mentioned below and will be highlighted in a future article.

Here, we get perspectives from Jason Wager (JW) of the Centralina Clean Fuels Coalition, Annie Lee (AL) of the Triangle Clean Cities Coalition and Sara Nichols (SN) of the Land-of-Sky Clean Vehicles Coalition.

Plug-in NC: What is an Alternative Fuel Corridor, and why does it matter for EV drivers in North Carolina?

SN: The Alternative Fuel Corridors are part of the Federal Highway Administration’s national network of alternative fueling and charging infrastructure along the highway system. This designation system is a critical backbone for extending locations of alternative fueling infrastructure that is consistent nationwide. For EV drivers, knowing that you are on a designated Alternative Fuel Corridor gives you peace of mind that there will be fast charging every 50 miles on your journey.

JW: Established several years ago by Section 1413 of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, the Federal Highway Administration administered a program that designated, over several annual rounds of nominations, in partnership with Clean Cities Coalitions, state Departments of Transportation and other stakeholders, Alternative Fuel Corridors, primarily along our National Highway System. The designation of Alternative Fuel Corridors is a critical first step towards the strategic deployment of alternative fueling infrastructure. These include a variety of fuels, including natural gas, propane, hydrogen and electricity. More importantly, our collective work in North Carolina over six rounds of nominations has created the network of EV “Ready” and “Pending” corridors that will be the focus of funding from the federal NEVI Program to be deployed over the next five years. Details of this program are further outlined in North Carolina’s Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Deployment Plan.

AL: On why it matters for EV drivers in North Carolina:

Right now, most EVs have been purchased in North Carolina’s urban areas; therefore, most of the chargers are in urban areas. That creates problems:

Plug-in NC: What are the corridors that we currently have “designated”?

JW: Designated corridors by state in tabular form can be found here.

North Carolina’s Alternative Fuel Corridors. Source: NCDOT

Plug-in NC: What are the criteria for making a corridor “alternative fuel friendly,” and who is involved in the process?

SN: To be “corridor ready,” a highway must have DC fast chargers 50 miles apart and no further than 5 miles from the interstate. The chargers should be non-Tesla-specific and have multiple ways to charge (i.e., CCS and CHAdeMO connectors). There is a process for submitting new sections to state Departments of Transportation for review. The Alternative Fuels Data Center Alternative Fueling Station Locator tool is part of the evaluation process, and our Clean Cities work includes making sure chargers are inputted into this program.

Plug-in NC: Does being nominated as an Alternative Fuel Corridor mean that these roads will receive funding to install EV charging stations (especially DC fast chargers)?

AL: The short answer is “yes,” in the future, as federal funds are released from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that was signed into law in November 2021. NEVI, which spun out of that act, is designed to fund the installation of EV chargers across the country along Alternative Fuel Corridors. In early August 2022, North Carolina submitted its draft plan for meeting the requirements of the NEVI Program.

Plug-in NC: Besides charging station investment, what are the other benefits of having a travel segment be designated as an Alternative Fuel Corridor?

SN: One of the major barriers to the adoption of EVs is range anxiety. Public signage and understanding that there is access to charging along major highways will help ease this anxiety to the public. In process, this will help decrease greenhouse gas emissions and grow sustainable transportation in the U.S.

AL: TOURISM! In a way, expanding charging stations in rural areas brings back the nostalgic images of a road trip, where you stop at a small diner or coffee shop while you wait for your vehicle. With EV charging not being instantaneous, it gives folks a chance to meander, grab lunch and check out the cute shop nearby. These small ventures and purchases that occur in a 30-minute time span can have a significant impact on local economies, and suddenly a small rural town just off the highway has another shot at economic prosperity.

JW: Benefits range from bragging rights to alleviating range anxiety to supporting resiliency efforts in times of disaster and evacuation, to name a few.

Plug-in NC: We could expect as many as 1.25 million EVs on the road in North Carolina by 2030. How does a designation for an Alternative Fuel Corridor prepare the Tar Heel state to support that many drivers?

SN: Given expectations of increased EV ownership, North Carolina’s expanding population and popular destinations for visitors, it’s clear that increasing our charging infrastructure is necessary. Closing our infrastructure gaps (on corridors or not) will be imperative to diversify where everyone is able to travel comfortably. Alternative Fuel Corridors are one pathway to make sure every vehicle can have affordable and equitable opportunities to travel.

AL: This all ties back to the importance of that NEVI Program mentioned above. The more corridors that North Carolina can identify and get federal approval on, the more assistance the state receives in building out the robust infrastructure needed to support the anticipated 1.25 million EVs. The writing is on the wall, and if charging infrastructure is not in place, we will be stuck in the thick of things, which is why so much time, planning and effort are being put into the infrastructure to support the reality of our transportation future.

JW: The injection of NEVI funding that will build out our EV corridors will effectively create a “spine” of charging opportunities, ensuring shared and broad access for the traveling public from the mountains to sea, rural to urban.