West Coast Electric Highway


Portland at dusk, above Interstate 5. Photo: Cacophony, image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
“The road that’s followed goes on forever; in half a minute crossed and left behind” – Gary Snyder, Mountains and Rivers Without End
Whether or not you’re heading down a ribbon of highway, as Woody Guthrie sings in This Land is Your Land, Interstate 5 is a paved conduit for work and commerce, travel and leisure. The Five offers motorists intersections to high density cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco and connecting arterials to getaway destinations in California’s redwood forests, Oregon’s rocky beaches, and the Cascade Mountains of the Pacific Northwest. Stretching 1,300 miles across the West Coast from California through Oregon and Washington to British Columbia, I-5 is more than just the backbone of California. It links an economic network of cities, ports, and options for travel and tourism across the Pacific Coast states.
As a vacation and travel corridor I-5 stitches together many destination options for summer. And now that the summer season is here and in full swing, many travelers are hitting the road. It’s the time to load up the car with maps, guide books, phone chargers and drive. Camp expeditions, family visits, and a few laps around national parks and landmarks make for some memories from the season, far away from the cul-de-sacs and strip-malls back home. Sharing the road this summer, at least on the West Coast, will be electric vehicles. Gas prices have continued to climb and may deter some long-distance travel for conventional automobile drivers, but for EV motorists there’s some relief — particularly when it comes to “range anxiety,” or the fear of running low on battery life and being located too far away from the next charge.
Earlier this year, the initial rollout of Aeroenvironment charging stations in Washington and Oregon marked the first phase of a West Coast network for accommodating the electric vehicle motorist. The West Coast Electric Highway stretching along the I-5 corridor offers a network of fast-charge charging stations for electrical vehicles, and are staggered at least every 25 miles. Aeroenvironment’s visibly distinctive green and silver charging stations are sited near freeway entrances in highly visible locations like at restaurants, hotels and visitors centers, and are currently offered as a free service to EV drivers.
The West Coast Electric Highway project is made possible with funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and key partnerships with the Oregon Department of Energy and the Washington State Department of Transportation. Washington state has already installed 12 Aeroenvironment fast-chargers along I-5 between Bellingham and Castle Rock, US Highway 2, and Interstate 90. Ten Aeroenvironment fast-chargers are also installed along the Oregon stretch of I-5 from Portland to Ashland.
By the end of 2012, extended EV routes branching from I-5 are tailored towards green tourism which will allow EV motorists some travel options and reachable destinations off the interstate. Washington’s US Highway 2 Stevens Pass Scenic Byway in the North Cascades is one recreational route for EV motorists already in place. Inaugurated earlier this summer in June, the route crossing over the Cascades along Highway 2 marks the world’s first EV-friendly Tourism Corridor. The route leafs out north of Seattle on I-5 and welcomes EV motorists traveling east to Stevens Pass, Leavenworth and Wenatchee.
Aeroenvironment has installed four 480-volt DC fast-charging stations along Highway 2 that can charge a Nissan Leaf or a Mitsubishi i-MiEV in 30 minutes and provide up to a 70-mile driving range. Four 240-volt Level 2 charging stations have also been installed at the same locations. Skiers, backpackers, and other visitors passing through this scenic route and East Cascades region will find these EV charging stations in Sultan, Skykomish, Leavenworth and Wenatchee.
In Oregon, two EV tourist routes are getting rolled out and fitted with fast-charger charging stations. One is the Oregon Coast route branching west from Portland and serving Astoria, Seaside, Cannon Beach and farther south towards Florence mid-way down the Oregon Coast. The second is the Hood River route heading due east from Portland along the Columbia River. The Oregon Department of Transportation is currently working with Aeroenvironment to install 22 of the fast-charging stations throughout these areas to establish Oregon’s EV tourism corridors. The U.S. Department of Transportation TIGER II (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant is funding $2 million for the project in Oregon, writes the Coast River Business Journal (Construction begins on coastal electrical vehicle chargers, August 9, 2012).
EV tourism and travel industry stands to benefit with an expanding electric highway corridor and travel network. In the white paper Electric Vehicles and the Oregon Tourism Industry published by the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium, the authors note, “By tapping an emerging ‘green traveler’ market, the tourist industry stands to benefit from participating in the impending EV rollout.” The assertion is an observant one. “The tourism industry can be a driver of EV adoption, building a brand that eco-conscious travelers can identify,” according to the paper. The authors also suggest that by “building a strong support network for EVs will also send a strong message to visitors that driving an EV can be an easy, attractive and green way to travel.”

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