MISSOULA - When the railroad pushed West in the 19th century, it created boom towns overnight and a new mode of travel into formerly distant lands. As the nation invests in an Electric Vehicle charging system, it could have similar sway over select corridors and cities poised along the route.
Members of Missoula’s Transportation Technical Advisory Committee have begun considering the $7.5 billion allotted by the federal government to build that network of Electric Vehicle charging stations.
Montana will receive $43 million over the next five years to support the construction of convenient, equitable and affordable charging stations. It must submit its Montana Alternative Fuel Corridor plan later this summer.
“These funds can only be used on Federal Highway Administration designated EV corridors,” said Jon Sand, an assistant planner with the city. “This program is also going to focus on rural areas, which is exciting for us here in Montana.”
While some details of the program remain unknown, the recommended federal highway corridors in Montana include both I-90 and I-15, along with US Highway 93 and US Highway 2 across the Hi-Line.
Missing from the corridor network are other traveled routes, including Montana Highway 200 and US Highway 12. Local transportation boards may recommend to the state that it considers other routes as well to ensure they can accommodate the future of electric transportation.
“We’re leaving off the entire Highway 83 corridor, which is a huge tourist corridor,” said transportation committee member Sarah Coefield. “There’s a Tesla station going in at Seeley Lake, but I’m not sure if it’s an all-electric charging station. If the state is uninterested in diverting away from the Interstate, then we should do what we can in Missoula County.”
Under federal program guidelines, the charging stations must be located within ine mile of the designated federal highway corridor and publicly accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
They must also sit within one-quarter mile of “amenities,” which haven’t been defined. Under such guidelines, most of the City of Missoula is covered and, as a result, it will benefit from the federal program and its investment into an EV system.
But a small segment of the city still sits outside the guidelines, including portions of Brooks and Orange streets in the Midtown district.
“One of the things we’d want to think about, do we want to develop a local deployment plan for Missoula and the greater urban area?” said Aaron Wilson, the city’s transportation planner. “There’s a lot of potential benefit to that, to have a good conversation locally.”
While Montana Alternative Fuel Corridor has been loosely defined, the exact location of the charging stations hasn’t been identified. Under the federal program, stations must have 150 kW of power for each charger and a minimum of four chargers.
That will require significant electric infrastructure, committee members said, and it could add another item to consider during other infrastructure projects, including road, sewer and water.
“Within the Metropolitan Planning Organization, we really need to know where these charging stations are going to go,” said Public Works Director Jeremy Keene. “Every time we rebuild a street or replace a water main, we should be thinking about how we get power to those charging stations. Having a plan is going to be really helpful for that.”
The location of pending charging stations could also impact the building industry, particularly housing and commercial. Wilson said a resident contacted him last year wanting to purchase an Electric Vehicle.
However, the individual didn’t have access to a garage and wanted to place a charging station in the boulevard, which sits in the public right-of-way. Those issues could become more prominent as Electric Vehicles become more common.
“If you’re building new developments that don’t have EV charging infrastructure included, it could get really challenging in the future,” Wilson said. “Thinking about multi-family or single-family without a garage, or if we’re using on-street parking and the charging has to be in the right-of-way, that creates a whole lot of issues I don’t think we’re prepared for. There are a lot of elements we need to think hard about.”
Despite the challenges, the new EV corridors and the charging stations within them could bring benefits if properly placed. Unlike gasoline stations where a vehicle can be refueled in a matter of minutes, charging an electric vehicle takes time depending on the level of charge and the type of charger.
“This is a great opportunity to look at those locations as economic drivers,” Keene said. “If someone comes to charge their car, if there’s something they can do whether it’s a visit downtown or the mall, there’s some great synergy there and we should try to be strategic in where we locate those charging stations.”
Sand said charging stations within the Montana Alternative Fuel Corridor would include a “CCS Combo” charger, the fastest and most versatile charger available. It provides 480V of DC power.
Currently, vehicles in that class have an electric range of 60 to 80 miles per 20-minute charge. Tesla vehicles have an adapter that can use the system as well. But location will be key.
“It seems to me, as far as location, it might be worth a short discussion with Destination Missoula,” said Parks Director Donna Gaukler. “A lot of this is longer distance travel, even if it’s local. To me, it would be sporting events, festivals, parks and shopping or museums. Those are the things you’d want to be doing while you’re stopped.”
The state needs to submit its deployment plan by Aug. 1 to the Office of Energy and Transportation to qualify for funding.