Connecting Dots and Bridging Gaps: Alternative Fueling Corridors

Updated January 16, 2018

Alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs) support the American goals of national security, economic growth, fuel diversity, and reliability. Reliable access to fueling stations is a key component to ensuring that AFVs are a convenient option for consumers and fleets. Limited range, or range anxiety, is a primary concern of those driving AFVs and alleviating this concern will allow AFVs to enter the mainstream market in a manner that supports the above-noted goals. There have been a number of approaches to easing range anxiety and one showing particular promise involves the development of “fueling corridors.” Fueling corridors are stretches of highways and roads that are publicly marked as having fueling stations for one or more types of alternative fuels within established distances. Public and private sector cooperation to establish these corridors, and ensure access to alternative fuels nationwide, is encouraged by state, regional, and federal legislation, incentives, and policies. Alternative fueling corridors provide convenient and standardized fueling experiences and allow AFV use to become broadly accepted on a national scale. With the guarantee of convenient fueling opportunities, fleets are able to expand to new regions and travel longer distances. Fueling corridors also allow consumers in range-limited vehicles to use their vehicles for long distance trips, rather than just for commuting. In addition to increased access to fueling stations, AFV corridor signage on highways increases public awareness.

Intra-State Corridors

Many jurisdictions support the purchase and lease of AFVs in the form of benefits such as high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, tax credits, rebates, and other financial incentives. However, once in the vehicle, the driver needs access to fueling. Limited access to convenient, consistent fueling is often a barrier to AFV acquisition. Installing infrastructure, establishing consistent user experiences, and facilitating industry partnerships are visible ways to demonstrate a state’s commitment to domestically produced clean fuels and support private industry investment.

Many states are creating intra-state corridors. For example, as part of the 2011 Oklahoma First Energy Plan, Oklahoma set a goal of installing at least one public compressed natural gas (CNG) station every 100 miles along the state’s interstate highways. Working with private sector CNG retail and infrastructure companies, the state was able to meet its goal in June 2016.

Loading alternative fueling station locator...

The established corridors have made CNG a convenient option for drivers. According to Central Oklahoma Clean Cities, Oklahoma has seen a 920% increase in CNG fuels sales since CNG-friendly legislation was enacted in 2009 and, with its commitment to the state Energy Plan, Oklahoma has more public CNG stations per capita than any other state.

In 2015, the Nevada Governor’s Office of Energy teamed up with NV Energy and Valley Electric Association to establish the Nevada Electric Highway. In an effort to connect urban centers in Washoe and Clark counties, the Nevada Electric Highway will have plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) charging stations in cost-effective and strategic locations on U.S. Route 95 from Las Vegas to Reno. Each station will include one DC fast charger and two Level 2 chargers. The first charging station along the Nevada Electric Highway, located in Beatty, opened February 2016. The Governor’s Office of Energy is also administering a five-year program to reduce host site electricity demand charges, or higher electricity rates for large users of electricity, associated with high-powered DC fast chargers.

Regional Corridors

Travelling among several states requires coordinated efforts to establish longer corridors. States are working together to create more extensive interstate alternative fueling networks that support convenient, long distance AFV travel. As a result, they are helping promote business and tourism while strengthening their support for interests they share in ensuring the reliability, affordability, and availability of alternative fuels.

The Interstate 5/Highway 99 corridor, also known as the West Coast Electric Highway, stretches through Washington, Oregon, and California. The Washington State Department of Transportation, the Oregon Department of Transportation, and a California interagency group led by the Governor’s Office developed the PEV corridor strategy in 2008 and began installing infrastructure in 2011, with funding support at that time from the U.S. Departments of Energy (DOE) and Transportation (DOT). The corridor boasts DC fast charging stations every 25 to 50 miles along its 1,350 mile length and is the longest EV corridor in the nation.

In October 2017, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming signed the Regional Electric Vehicle (REV) West memorandum of understanding (MOU) to create an Intermountain West EV Corridor, which will make it possible to seamlessly drive a PEV across the signatory states’ major transportation corridors. The REV West states will create best practices and procedures for PEV access to charging, create minimum standards for PEV charging stations, identify and develop opportunities to incorporate PEV charging stations into planning and development processes, and encourage PEV manufacturer sales.

Regional commitments to PEVs can provide the private sector guidance on focusing its efforts. For example, in April 2017, a PEV manufacturer and a charging station manufacturer partnered to announce the development of a DC fast charging corridor between Boston and Washington, D.C., a region that is identified in an eight state zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) MOU as an area of focus. The region is also a DOT designated fueling corridor, as discussed below.

Not all efforts to develop regional corridors have been dependent on state government involvement. In 2013, AMP Americas, a natural gas supplier with partial funding via an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) competitive award, opened its renewable CNG corridor along Interstate 65/Interstate 75. The corridor runs from Chicago, Illinois, to Orlando, Florida.

National Corridors

In accordance with Section 1413 of the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, DOT designated national hydrogen, propane, and natural gas fueling, and PEV charging, corridors in strategic locations along major highways. DOT designated the initial corridors in November 2016 after soliciting nominations from state and local officials and working with industry stakeholders. To comply with FAST, DOT must update and redesignate the corridors within five years of the establishment of the corridors, and every five years thereafter, with the first update expected in 2018. During the designation and redesignation processes, DOT will issue a report that identifies available charging and fueling infrastructure and technologies, analyzes standardization needs for fuel providers and purchasers, and reestablishes the goal of achieving strategic siting of fueling infrastructure in the designated corridors by the end of 2020.

The initial group of 55 designated corridors covers 35 states. DOT categorized corridors as “signage ready,” or “signage pending.” Corridors are designated “signage ready” if there are enough existing stations on the corridor to place signs alerting drivers to the availability of alternative fueling stations. The distance between existing stations must align with typical AFV ranges (50 miles for PEV charging stations, 100 miles for hydrogen, 150 for propane and CNG, and 200 for liquefied natural gas). Corridors are designated “signage pending” if the corridor needs more fueling infrastructure before signage can be installed.

DOT’s goals for these corridors include promoting standard national signage and branding to catalyze interest, as well as encouraging multi-state and regional cooperation and collaboration. DOT intends to bring together a consortium of stakeholders including state agencies, utilities, alternative fuel providers, and car manufacturers to advance alternative fuel corridor designations.

Building Momentum

The efforts by state and federal agencies and private entities to identify and designate the best initial opportunities for fueling corridors help create a more robust, comprehensive alternative fueling network that ensures reliable and affordable access to fuel. These corridors also serve as a means to develop and enhance best practices and share lessons learned. As capital for alternative fueling stations becomes available, best practices established through corridor development will be extremely helpful in addressing questions of station siting and signage, and ensuring efficient and cost-effective use of these funds.