This is how electric cars become the norm

In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower laid out a bold vision that would revolutionize transportation in our nation—an interstate highway system that crisscrossed the country, speeding cars and trucks from city to city and everywhere in between as a way of connecting our growing nation. At the time, critics said it was too expensive and highway costs should be shouldered by the states. But the president's vision proved to be right and is now credited with creating jobs and spurring the post-war economic boon.

Sixty-two years later, it's time for a refresh—as our nation continued to grow, so too has its innovation. Now is the moment to modernize the interstate highway system so it can accommodate the latest technology and take advantage of new funding approaches. Our nation needs a coast to coast network of high-speed charging stations along our interstate highways. Best estimates suggest they should be spaced 70 miles apart, co-located at spots along the highway where we already stop for meals, snack and rest breaks.

Electric charging station
Fabian Bimmer | Reuters

Back in the day, the lion's share (roughly 90 percent) was funded by the federal government. Today, that's neither practical nor necessary. A far better approach is a public-private partnership, where private investment is leveraged with public funding and loan guarantees as a backstop. This should begin with pilot programs along the busiest corridors and then quickly scale to most major interstate highways.

Just like 60 years ago, there are naysayers trying to destroy this vision. The Koch brothers are today plotting a multi-million dollar assault on electric vehicles and the charging networks that support them. Others will surely follow, denying the challenge posed by global warming and the need to move to an electrified transportation infrastructure.

But the arguments for going forward are much more compelling. This is precisely the type of infrastructure project that our nation should embrace. It minimizes public spending, while maximizing public benefit. All the while, it accelerates U.S. technology leadership in a critical and emerging market.

For me, this is about more than good policy. I drive a Chevy Volt, an electric vehicle that only uses its gas engine when the battery runs out of a charge. I get about 300 miles per gallon, and the last time I filled up with gasoline was months ago. I have solar panels on my home where I charge my Volt, so my car runs on sunshine. I don't ever want to buy another gallon of gas. But I can't get to Los Angeles to see my daughter without either putting gas in the car or finding charging stations along the way.

I'm not alone in this. Americans are choosing to go electric in record numbers. Just last month more than 400,000 Americans put down $1000 each to save their place in line for the high-performance electric Tesla Model 3. And there are dozens of other affordable makes and models available or coming to market soon—like the all-electric Chevy Bolt and the Nissan Leaf. If we want consumers to buy these cars as their first—not second—car, then we need to electrify the nation's highways.

Close to home, powering electric vehicles is easy. Most charging takes place at home, overnight, and lasts through the day. Every day, more employers, apartment buildings and retailers are providing charging facilities to help drivers top off their cars when they're out and about. No question there needs to be more stations in more locations, but this build out is happening as we speak.

The last remaining roadblock, then, becomes intercity charging. A number of intercity corridors have begun to install high speed charging stations (known as DC Fast Chargers) to make this vision a reality. This includes San Francisco to Los Angeles, Washington to New York, and Chicago to St. Louis. This is major progress, but much more needs to be done.

That's why it's time for a bold and modern vision for a 21st century interstate highway system, which will once again spur economic growth, job creation and U.S. technological leadership around the world.

As President Eisenhower said a modern highway system is essential to meet the needs of our growing population, our expanding economy, and our national security when he discussed the system in the 1955 State of the Union Address. These words are just as true today as they were then. It's time to modernize one of the engineering marvels of the last century and ensure that it meets the needs of a new generation of Americans.

Commentary by Jennifer Granholm, the former Governorof Michigan. She helped save the auto industry from bankruptcy and also drove the very first electric Chevy Volt off the assembly line.

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