What Does Pennsylvania Turnpike’s Future Electric Charging Road Mean for Trucking?

What Does Pennsylvania Turnpike’s Future Electric Charging Road Mean for Trucking?

“I think we can build an infrastructure that pays for good maintenance with the money collected from charging.”

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Pennsylvania Turnpike is looking to install a solar field with hope to eventually electrify parts of the toll road so electric vehicles can charge as they travel.

In partnership with Utah State’s ASPIRE, the Ohio Turnpike, and the University of Pittsburgh’s Impactful Resilient Infrastructure Science and Engineering program, the turnpike wants to be ready to serve small and midsize vehicles initially and have the infrastructure in place when battery technology is ready to charge large trucks and tractor-trailers.

“The real challenge for us is to electrify heavy-duty vehicles. If we’re going to help to address climate change and greenhouse gases, we’re going to have to figure that out,” said Keith Jack, the turnpike’s manager of facilities operations. 

This process is expected to begin with a demonstration project using a turnpike parking space as a charging station in the next 18 months, followed by electrifying part of the toll road system linking the Ohio-Pennsylvania border so drivers can charge while they drive.

According to Utah State’s Tallis Blalack, ASPIRE center’s director, ASPIRE will look for partners in the trucking industry to test shorter-range batteries and electrified road surfaces and will likely develop around heavy population centers, like Salt Lake City, first.

“I think we can build an infrastructure that pays for good maintenance with the money collected from charging,” he said. “We can change how we pay for the entire transportation system and keep cost down at the same time.”

How does electrifying roads make money?

Although the details and rates haven’t been worked out, the owners of the electrified roadway would charge drivers for the electricity their vehicles receive.

Drivers could turn off their receiver if they don’t want to recharge while driving.

Over the past year, the Pennsylvania Turnpike has been installing just over 3,300 solar panels on a 5-acre hillside near Jeannette.

The solar field, in conjunction with a natural gas generator, is part of a $4.5 million project to create a microgrid to provide all of the electricity the turnpike needs at the site.

It also will generate additional electricity the turnpike can sell for $450,000 to $650,000 a year to the West Penn Power grid.

The solar field near Jeannette is the first of many as the turnpike tries to cut costs, improve the environment and provide facilities for electric vehicle owners, said Keith Jack, the turnpike’s manager of facilities operations.

Could this help states battling lost gas tax revenue?

As electric vehicles become more popular, gas tax revenues have been on a steady decline and states have been exploring more sources to replace the lost revenue.

Instead of using a tax on gas or diesel to finance road infrastructure, a vehicle miles traveled tax (VMT) has been considered as an alternative.

However, this solution requires all vehicles to install a telematic device to capture the distance driven by a vehicle through GPS and many worry about privacy or cost concerns.

Instead, an electric charging rate and selling excess stored energy to the grid could temporarily help states lost gas tax revenue.

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