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National Transportation Strategies—2022 And Beyond: Part I

The 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, also known as the IIJA (Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act) has caused a renewed interest in modernizing transportation modes across the nation. Most people, when asked what constitutes “infrastructure,” will respond with highways, bridges, airports, and perhaps marine ports.

An answer might also include rail and ship lines that are a major part of the equation, domestically (both) and internationally (shipping). The impact on the supply chain of ships idling off major ports during the pandemic illustrates the value of both ports and multimodal transportation to bring the supplies off the ships and across the country.

The last major nationwide infrastructure initiative in America happened almost 70 years ago with the creation of the Interstate Highway System. Those roads, heavily traveled and subject to a wide variety of weather and variable maintenance throughout their lifecycle are a substantial part of the earmarked funds in the Infrastructure Bill.

The Interstate Highway System began in 1955 during President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration. Ike was influenced by his experiences as a young Army officer crossing the country in the 1919 Motor Transport Corps convoy that drove in part on the Lincoln Highway, the first road across America. Later, Eisenhower gained an appreciation of the German Reichautobahn system, the first implementation of modern Germany’s Autobahn network, as a necessary component of a national defense system. 

In 1954, Eisenhower appointed General Lucius Clay to head a committee charged with proposing an interstate highway system plan. Clay’s committee proposed a 10-year, $100 billion program, which would build 40,000 miles of divided highways linking all American cities with a population of greater than 50,000. Under the act, the federal government would pay for 90% of the cost of construction. Each Interstate Highway was required to be a freeway with at least four lanes and no at-grade crossings. They were and are a vital link in connecting people and places, allowing freight and travelers alike to move from city to city and state to state.

And they no longer address the needs of today in terms of a world moving to green energy, urban lifestyles, and different population patterns. The funding in the IIJA will be needed to bring those highways into the 21st Century by doing more than resurfacing them. Some of the announced funding will, indeed, be aimed at changing the structure of the highway system to make it more in tune with the needs of the future as well as the present.

The U.S. DOT (Dept. of Transportation’s) FHWA (Federal Highway Admin.) is providing $52.5 billion in funding to all 50 states and the District of Columbia under the IIJA. The funding for Fiscal Year 2022 represents an increase of more than 20% as compared to Fiscal Year 2021 for Federal-aid Highway Program apportionments. This funding, to be made available through new and existing program grants, will address long-overdue problems hampering the safety and performance of America’s roads, bridges, and highways. 

Additional funding to be announced in 2022 will contribute to:  

More than 13% of rural roads are in poor condition. There are more than 3,000 closed bridges in rural areas, and another 50,000 with weight restrictions due to their condition. And when a bridge is closed or has a load limit and you can’t cross it, in rural areas that means that the length of the average detour is going to be a lot more severe than it is in an area that’s concentrated with a lot of alternatives. It can be three times longer than in an urban area, which means people take longer to get to work, businesses take longer to get their deliveries. And the fatality rate on rural roads is about twice as high as on urban roads.

How can technology be used to usher the highway system into the future? Companies, associations, and non-profits are working independently and collectively to find out. The Ray, a nonprofit charity, created a net-zero highway testbed, located on 18 miles of Interstate 85 between LaGrange Georgia and the Georgia-Alabama state line.

The Ray is conducting the NextGen Highways Feasibility Study for the Minnesota Dept. of Transportation with partner NGI Consulting. The NextGen Highways team is focused on the strategic co-location of electric and communications infrastructure in the highway ROW (right-of-way). This co-location strategy would build for the transportation future, enable a clean energy economy, and remove barriers to economic development.

The Feasibility Study is focused on the potential deployment of buried, HVDC (high-voltage, direct current) transmission lines in Minnesota interstate and highway ROW. This is a first step for the NextGen Highways team as it works to reimagine the nation’s highway system.

The findings demonstrate that buried HVDC transmission is cost-effective and can be feasibly sited in interstate and highway ROW after making appropriate consideration for existing and future transportation system needs. This means that the existing highway system can enable transportation along with grid decarbonization and strengthen grid reliability and resilience—all while delivering billions of dollars in societal benefits.

In April 2021, the FHWA released guidance clarifying the highway ROW “can be leveraged by State DOT for pressing public needs relating to climate change, equitable communications access, and energy reliability.” Projects listed include renewable energy generation, electrical transmission and distribution projects, broadband projects, vegetation management, inductive charging in travel lanes, and alternative fueling facilities, among others.

To support clean vehicle electrification, the existing transportation infrastructure will need to evolve to incorporate the infrastructure to power and connect these vehicles. This study demonstrates that states can use existing publicly owned land to help solve the Nation’s greatest and immediate challenges in the energy, transportation, and communications sectors.

Additional key findings from the Feasibility Study showcase that buried HVDC transmission in highway ROW shares many of the same challenges as buried fiber. This is notable, considering buried HVDC transmission and buried fiber can be co-located together in the same trench or duct bank.

A Cornell University-led team has calculated that by the year 2050, vehicle electrification, driverless cars and ride sharing could slash U.S. petroleum consumption by 50% and carbon dioxide emissions by 75% while simultaneously preventing 5,500 premature deaths and saving $58 billion annually.

The researchers projected vehicle stocks, distance traveled, energy usage, and carbon dioxide emissions in the continental U.S. through 2050 and quantified the impacts of changing emissions on concentrations of fine particulate matter in the atmosphere, as well as ensuing health and economic benefits of populations in 10 major metropolitan areas.

Another key finding is that for carbon mitigations and health benefits, vehicle electrification is by far the most important piece, followed by shared mobility (ridesharing) and then automation. The net energy impacts of self-driving vehicles are highly uncertain, and automation alone may not dramatically affect energy use, emissions, or vehicle-related pollution.

The study concludes that policymakers can help encourage the transition to electric vehicles and boost ride sharing, for example, by issuing tighter fuel economy standards, creating economic incentives for shared mobility, and investing in charging infrastructure and technological developments.

Indeed, IIJA funds will be earmarked for urban and rural electrification projects. State DOTs are developing plans for EV charging infrastructure at 50-mile intervals along the U.S. Interstate system. With 70% of all U.S. freight being transported by medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, which contribute to nearly 24% of transportation GHG (greenhouse gas emissions), fleet electrification will make a significant impact on total GHG emissions. It is a vital component in the success of the nation’s electrification strategy.

The U.S. DOE (Dept. of Energy) Argonne National Laboratory contributed critical tools and expertise to a new federal initiative aimed at helping states build EV-charging stations fairly and equitably across the nation.

Argonne is supporting the NEVI (National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure) Formula Program that will distribute $5 billion to states to create a network of public electric vehicle charging stations. The network is expected to include 500,000 stations by the end of the decade.

The NEVI program is part of the IIJA, which provides up to $7.5 billion for the national electric vehicle charging network. The network is intended to target corridors and communities by filling gaps in rural, disadvantaged, and hard-to-reach locations. The goal is to give all residents access to electric vehicle charging.

The Ray, using Geotab telematics, can support states and local governments as they seek to determine the optimal locations and design for charging stations for both passenger and freight vehicles. Observing real truck movement data, The Ray can help determine where and what type of additional truck parking is needed for electrification.

But EV (electric vehicle) charging stations for private electric vehicles isn’t the only program under development funded by IIJA. The legislation includes $39 billion of new investment to modernize transit, in addition to continuing the existing transit programs for five years as part of surface transportation reauthorization. In total, the new investments and reauthorization in the IIJA provide $89.9 billion in guaranteed funding for public transit in the next five years—the largest Federal investment in public transit in history.

The legislation will expand public transit options across every state in the country, replace thousands of deficient transit vehicles, including buses, with clean, zero-emission vehicles, and improve accessibility for the elderly and people with disabilities. For example, $1.47 billion in competitive grant funds will be to help modernize bus fleets and facilities across the country, which will help reduce carbon emissions, leading to cleaner air, healthier communities, and better transportation. Changes like this in mass transit has the potential for quick and relatively inexpensive benefits. Some cities and areas are already proving the value of electric buses.

In 2020, King County Washington (Seattle area) announced an agreement with New Flyer to purchase next-generation, battery-electric coaches. A total of 40 battery-electric coaches will be put into service by the end of 2022. Metro is currently on track to have a fully battery-electric fleet by 2035. The 60-ft coaches hold 120 people and can travel approximately 140 miles on a single charge. The 40-ft coaches hold 76 people on a 220-mile route on a single charge.

Metro is committed to having the first coaches serve routes in south King County, in transit-dependent communities that have been impacted by air pollution and climate change. Metro currently operates a fleet of more than 1,400 buses with 185 zero-emission buses, including 174 electric trolley buses that use overhead wires, and 11 (40-ft.) battery-electric buses. The electrical infrastructure required to support battery-electric buses, including switchgears and transformers, is already deployed in other high electric-usage industries, including hospitals, large buildings, and server farms. Metro has worked with Seattle City Light on a resiliency study of the feeders to the interim base to ensure power needs can be met.

Stay tuned. We will continue our deep dive into transportation in our next feature, which will release on June 15.

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