President Biden officially signed the bipartisan infrastructure bill, including a $5 billion investment in state-administered grants for deploying electric vehicle (EV) charging stations nationwide. These funds will help states develop charging networks across communities that include rural, disadvantaged, and hard to reach areas, propelling the administration’s decarbonization goals forward through state-level transportation projects.
Now that the bill is officially law, the next step is putting plans in place to mobilize these new federal investments so they can have the greatest impact in communities across the country.
Where to begin
Getting these funds from the federal level to state and local governments is not going to happen overnight. It will take planning and coordination across all levels, as well as buy-in from local communities.
State departments of transportation (DOTs) will be tasked with spearheading these efforts to ensure that the funding is disseminated thoughtfully. Once DOTs get the ball rolling, they can pull in partner agencies, like energy, environment, and general services to manage specific projects. We’re already seeing these organizations collaborating on projects resulting from previous funding sources like the Volkswagen Clean Air Act Settlement and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, but this large-scale investment is unprecedented and will require even more collaboration and information sharing, due to its magnitude.
Tapping into readily available resources will also be instrumental in speeding up this process. For example, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) alternative fuel corridor designation process enables natural coordination between agencies to identify the roadways that are ready to support electrified travel. There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel when foundational resources and consortia like this already exist; instead, the pace of approvals just needs to increase.
State agencies should also engage with their network of community stakeholders. These leaders and organizations deeply understand the socioeconomic, policy, and cultural considerations of their community, so they’ll be instrumental in helping state officials determine and mobilize plans in disadvantaged communities. Getting the buy-in from community members will ensure that charging infrastructure is deployed strategically, and keeping these leaders involved early and often will be a game-changer for seamlessly and effectively deploying funds.
Transparency, collaboration, and technical assistance will also be key. This is where the federal departments of transportation and energy will be most beneficial to their state counterparts. At a national level, these agencies can help facilitate knowledge sharing across agencies and state lines so that every state has access to necessary resources. And the robust tools and datasets these federal agencies maintain will be extremely valuable, such as the Alternative Fuels Data Center.
If state agencies apply lessons learned from other projects and community stakeholders, and federal agencies help spread this information across states, the process of deploying these funds will run more smoothly and efficiently.
States in motion
To best take advantage of these funds, states should get plans in place so that projects are shovel-ready when the funding makes its way down the pipeline (a concept I spoke about more extensively in my recent conversation with NYC DOT Director of Electric Vehicle Policy, Mark Simon). This will ensure that states make the largest impact of the federal funding, as quickly as possible.
Many states are already moving toward an electrified transportation future, and we need to look to them for insights. It is clear that states already setting their own EV targets, providing incentives, and stimulating the market will be in a better position to take advantage of federal funding.
One leading the way in EV policy is Arizona. At the state level, Arizona requires regulated utilities to develop a transportation electrification plan, which will set them up for success once this new funding is available. Arizona utility companies are also working hard to spread awareness and interest in EVs through incentive programs. For example, the Salt River Project (SRP), is providing rebates for commercial charging installations and fleet assessments, as well as incentivizing EV adoption through its Drive Electric program.
Tennessee provides a great example of multiple agencies collaborating to line up transportation electrification projects and processes. Working together, state agencies (including TDEC and TDOT), power providers like the Tennessee Valley Authority, cities, universities, electric vehicle and charging providers, businesses, and advocacy groups developed a comprehensive plan to mobilize the state on vehicle electrification. These groups are enabling projects and charging initiatives to increase awareness and adoption of EVs across the state.
States that have been working toward increased transportation electrification for years may have a leg up as the funds make their way into local communities, but it’s not too late for others to start putting plans in place. Once federal investments make their way to the state level, clear processes and channels for collaboration will ensure that these funds create the greatest impact possible for local communities.