Our New Ways: Washington Good to Go with America’s First Electric Highway


We at EcoSalon are big on this whole electric car business. We write about it at ton, checking out everything from tech to design, sales to service, performance to promise. But the fact is, electric cars are now big-time begging the question of support infrastructure. Last week, when we wrote about Nissan Leaf pre-orders effectively making its upcoming December release a sold-out affair, we mentioned that Nissan’s Chief Exec said sales of the vehicle will be limited to regions where the automaker felt plans were coming together to get and keep the things charged. This is certainly not everywhere, but the fact that so many of you are willing to give electric cars a go is prompting D.C. and local governments to bring up the rear when it comes to creating electro-friendly environments for the environmentally friendly vehicles.

Washington State’s Departments of Transportation and Commerce, with the help of $1.32 million Federal grant, are about to begin work on turning a stretch of Interstate 5 (I-5) into the nation’s first “electric highway.” The idea is to start equipping the road with enough charging stations for electric vehicles to handle the 276-mile trip from the Canadian border to the Oregon state line. (The Leaf, as an example, will need a plug-in about every 100 miles.) It will be the first border-to-border highway to offer “fast charge,” Level-3 technology, which will get you back on the road in about 15 minutes.

“We want people to buy electric vehicles with the confidence that they can take longer trips than just around the community and to different cities,” a WSDOT rep told seattlepi.

The effort is part of the $230 million Federal EV Project, a Department of Energy recovery grant program that will eventually bring 900 Leaf cars (Leaves?) and about 2,500 electric–vehicle charging stations to the Seattle area. The broader scope of the project entails the introduction of 8,300 electric vehicles (the Leaf and Chevy Volt models) and 15,000 charging stations to Washington, California, Arizona, Tennessee and the District of Columbia.

The project supports the West Coast Green Highway initiative that’s promoting the use of cleaner fuels along I-5 from B.C. to Baja. The big idea is that I-5 will become the first U.S. interstate that’s electric-vehicle ready, border-to-border, with charging stations within striking distance of each other the whole long way.

Stage I of the Washington project will feature Level-2 chargers at Washington’s “gateway” rest areas for “public education and outreach.” The more powerful Level-3 stations will be developed through public/private partnerships with their ultimate locations depending on the private partner’s retail outlets, so to speak. A contractor is due to be selected this Fall with installations to begin immediately after.

Scott Adelson

Scott Adelson is EcoSalon's Senior Editor of HyperKulture, a monthly column that explores opening cultural doors to initiate personal change. He is also the author of InPRINT, which reviews and discusses books, new and old. You can reach him at scott@adelson.org.