By Robert L. Reid


“Accelerating Electric,” in the January/February 2024 print issue of Civil Engineering, explores how transit agencies across the nation are working to electrify their fleets of buses and other large vehicles. This brief online companion piece dips into the equally important need for infrastructure to charge privately owned electric vehicles, such as passenger cars and light-duty trucks.


While in many cases, people charge their electric vehicles at home with garage- or driveway-based charging systems, charging is more challenging for people who live in multifamily buildings or large apartment complexes. That is why across the United States many cities are working to install public charging networks at key locations, including public transportation centers, city-owned parking lots, libraries, beaches, and parks and recreation centers, among other sites, notes Meghan Pazik, the policy director at Climate Mayors, a coalition of more than 350 mayors of U.S. cities who are committed to tackling climate change.


American cities are at various stages of rolling out such charging networks, with some just beginning and others with thousands of charging sites in place, Pazik says. Los Angeles is perhaps the most notable, with nearly 30,000 public chargers expected throughout the city by year’s end, according to a March 3, 2022, update to the city’s EV master plan given to the LA City Council by the Energy, Climate Change, Environmental Justice, and River Committee.


Los Angeles expects a total of 45,000 chargers by 2045 — mostly commercial Level 2 units that can take 4-6 hours to charge EVs but also several hundred DC fast chargers, which can recharge vehicles in 15-45 minutes.


Alternate fuels


The Federal Highway Administration’s National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Program, which is funded through the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, encourages states to develop “alternate fuel corridors” that would feature EV charging stations spaced at a maximum distance of 50 mi apart, says Dan Corey, P.E., M.ASCE, the national director for mobilities technologies at the engineering firm STV. “Most states right now are looking at how to procure those (EV charging) sites in a design-build method” and working with electrical utilities to “make sure they can get power to those specific locations at every 50 mi,” Corey adds.


The power issue will be critical as EVs become more common on roads. “We need to make sure the infrastructure keeps up with the (energy) demand,” Corey says. In addition to standard EVs, Corey would like to see hydrogen fuel cells used to power electric vehicles so that hydrogen charging stations can help reduce the potential strain on the nation’s electric grid.


More than just a charge


As EVs increase their presence on the nation’s roads and highways, there will most likely be changes and challenges to the way people drive and refuel or recharge those vehicles. For example, the longer times required to recharge EVs versus just filling up internal combustion engine cars with gasoline and driving off could lead to changes in the design of auto rest stops.


Architect Frank Lloyd Wright once designed a two-level gas station with a lounge upstairs where travelers could stop and relax for a while. The idea, which Wright developed in the 1920s, never caught on, and only one version was ever constructed — in Cloquet, Minnesota, in 1958.


Corey thinks something similar could be in store for EV charging sites, as others have also hypothesized, especially if such sites become destinations at which people can get other activities accomplished — such as shopping, dining, or just resting — while their vehicles recharge.


This article is published by Civil Engineering Online.