Places to recharge: Illinois to build network of electric vehicle chargers beginning in 2023

  • Lack of charging stations like this one in Elgin is one of the most significant barriers for widespread adoption of electric vehicles. Illinois is set to receive $148 million over the next five years to place fast-charging stations every 50 miles on designated "fuel corridors."

      Lack of charging stations like this one in Elgin is one of the most significant barriers for widespread adoption of electric vehicles. Illinois is set to receive $148 million over the next five years to place fast-charging stations every 50 miles on designated "fuel corridors." Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Lack of charging stations like this one in Elgin is one of the most significant barriers for widespread adoption of electric vehicles. Illinois is set to receive $148 million over the next five years to place fast-charging stations every 50 miles on designated "fuel corridors."

      Lack of charging stations like this one in Elgin is one of the most significant barriers for widespread adoption of electric vehicles. Illinois is set to receive $148 million over the next five years to place fast-charging stations every 50 miles on designated "fuel corridors." Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Illinois is planning to place electric vehicle charging stations every 50 miles along designated "fuel corridors" mandated by the federal government, marked in green. Red interstates, including I-88 and I-290, represent proposed additions from IDOT.

    Illinois is planning to place electric vehicle charging stations every 50 miles along designated "fuel corridors" mandated by the federal government, marked in green. Red interstates, including I-88 and I-290, represent proposed additions from IDOT. COURTESY OF ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

  • Illinois is in the planning stages of placing electric vehicle charging stations every 50 miles along designated "fuel corridors" mandated by the federal government, marked in green. Red interstates, including I-88 and I-290, are proposed additions.

    Illinois is in the planning stages of placing electric vehicle charging stations every 50 miles along designated "fuel corridors" mandated by the federal government, marked in green. Red interstates, including I-88 and I-290, are proposed additions. COURTESY OF ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

 
Updated 11/30/2022 12:55 PM

The key to getting more electric vehicles on the road, research has found, is having the charging stations to support them.

That relationship is not yet in balance, so state and federal agencies are working to bring the two components in line.

 

Eleftheria Kontou, an engineering professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said the issue is much like the everlasting debate over which came first, the chicken or the egg.

Without a reliable network of charging stations, Kontou said, Illinoisans don't want to buy electric cars. Without electric cars on the roads, manufacturers and businesses don't want to make, own and operate charging stations.

Which should come first? Kontou contends the answer is that both must grow in tandem. That will require monetary incentives to get people to buy electric vehicles -- such as the state Department of Energy's recently launched $4,000 rebates for EV purchases -- alongside state investments in charging infrastructure.

Lack of charging stations is one major bump in the road standing in the way of the state's massive effort to reach 1 million electric vehicles by 2030.

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"In our analysis, we see that we are able to meet 1 million EVs in the state of Illinois, but we need heavily to invest in charging infrastructure," Kontou said. "Creating this dense public charging infrastructure network is the prerequisite for being able to meet this goal and actually exceed it."

To tackle the issue, Illinois is set to receive $148 million from the federal government over the next five years to install stations along major corridors, namely the interstate highways, throughout the state, beginning next year.

Like many other states, Illinois is looking to nudge drivers to swap out their gasoline-powered cars for electric vehicles as part of its lofty climate goal of reaching 100% clean energy by 2050. There's hefty progress to be made over the next eight years on the electric vehicle front: Only 46,000 EVs are registered in the state today.

Illinois is the fifth-largest energy-consuming state in the nation, and the transportation sector takes up the largest share of its carbon dioxide emissions, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"If we're serious about reducing passenger vehicle transportation emissions within the next 10 to 12 years, we need to gradually create a dense public charging infrastructure network so that we can support electric vehicles use and electrify more miles," said Kontou, who is developing a statewide Electric Vehicle Adoption Plan in collaboration with the state Department of Transportation.

The state is in the planning stages of creating the more robust network of chargers, using the $148 million from the federal government. The funding comes out of the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure program, formed as a result of the sweeping federal infrastructure act that passed in November.

The program directs states to place charging stations every 50 miles along designated "fuel corridors'' on interstates, which in Illinois include I-90, I-94, I-55 and I-39. Federal guidelines also encourage states to equip other interstates in addition to the mandated corridors. Proposed additions currently include I-88 and I-290.

The charging stations must have four charging ports, each with the ability to fully charge an electric vehicle in less than 30 minutes, and they must be no greater than a mile away from the specified routes. The initiative is primarily aimed at passenger vehicles.

"The goal of this program is building out a network of public charging across the state and across the country, so that folks can feel confident taking longer-distance trips in an electric vehicle," said Elizabeth Irvin, deputy director of IDOT's Office of Planning and Programming.

An interactive map of both the designated and proposed routes can be found at tinyurl.com/ILEVPLAN.

IDOT submitted its plan to the federal government for approval Monday. The agency estimates that funds will be available in late fall and that spending will not kick into gear until 2023.

At the department's first public outreach meeting for the program last week, officials said it is still unknown what entities will own and operate the charging stations, as well as how many stations will be needed to meet the requirements from the federal government.

In addition to the statewide charging station initiative, Illinois is collaborating with three other Midwest states to create a road trip route specifically for electric vehicles along the 1,100 miles of drivable Lake Michigan shoreline. Charging stations would be installed along the "Lake Michigan EV Circuit Tour," the state announced Wednesday.

"The Great Lakes are the crown jewel of the upper Midwest, and this initiative proudly blends our clean energy goals with the natural beauty that attracts countless visitors each year," Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in a statement.

IDOT is taking suggestions for charging station locations as well as general feedback from the public via email at DOT.DriveElectric@illinois.gov or via the web; visit tinyurl.com/ILEVFeedback.

The next public outreach meeting will take place virtually in early September.

• Jenny Whidden is a Report For America corps member covering climate change and the environment for the Daily Herald. To help support her work, click here to make a tax-deductible donation.

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