Beyond Fixing Potholes, Detroit Needs Infrastructure Planning for the EV Future 

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The Motor City is leading the charge of the green energy transportation movement in future-minded innovations in electric vehicle infrastructure planning backed by billions of federal and state funding.

For too long, Michiganders have come to accept crumbling roads and potholes as a fact of daily life. Last year, steps were taken to “fix the damn roads” through a federal infrastructure bill and the bond-financing road funding plan at a cost of $3.5 billion.

The Michigan Chronicle spoke with local and state mobility and infrastructure leaders on what strategic plans for the city.

“We have to move from fixing the band aids,” said Beverly Watts, infrastructure business consultant and former director of the Public Services in Wayne County. “Temporary fixes are not enough and keep us behind. We need to look toward new city designs. If we look at California, it’s more advanced so we need to move beyond the pothole dialogue and get the brain trust of county leaders and stakeholders into a space to think of an asset management plan. When you think of cars you think of the Motor City, and that’s something to capitalize on.”

In November 2021, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) was signed into law by President Biden. The federal policy provides funding for infrastructure projects including roads, bridges, water infrastructure, and electric vehicle charging. The IIJA authorizes funding $550 billion over five years, with Michigan in line to receive $4.3 billion in additional funding over time.

Watts said short-sightedness in strategic planning and design threatens Detroit’s ground zero advantage in the early market days of electric vehicle infrastructure preparedness.

“Lagging behind what’s coming tomorrow will inevitably hurt our economy,” said Watts. “There is a lot to consider, access to EV charging stations everywhere, solid investments in core infrastructure, even costs of insurance…with the Big Three auto companies transforming EV commitments, we can’t afford not to have roads and infrastructure ready.”

At this year’s Detroit Auto Show, President Biden announced first steps in a plan to invest $900 million toward building a national grid network of charging stations for electric vehicles. The funding will help build charging stations in the first 35 states, including Michigan.

A Peek Into Detroit’s Electric Vehicle(EV) Readiness

Trevor Pawl is the Chief Mobility Officer for the State of Michigan and leads Michigan’s Office of Future Mobility and Electrification.

He said Detroit’s mobility ecosystem is primed for an innovative recharge.

A quick Google Search shows twenty electric charging stations available in Detroit, most of which as clustered downtown and up Woodward Ave toward New Center.

Additional charging station locations are being discussed with effective policy recommendations in mind to better reach other neighborhoods outside Downtown.

“We subscribe to this idea of marketing by doing,” said Pawl. “That means installing charging stations at the local Kroger. We have a partnership with Volta (Charging) and DTE , because a lot of times these charges go where they’re going to make some money. It’s the basic principles of capitalism of free markets.

We’re trying to create situations where that’s not the case. It almost a signaling exercise to put charging stations in areas where maybe there’s not a ton of electric vehicles. To remind folks, you can have this electric vehicle and you’re not going to get stranded, they’re going to fit into your daily life.”

Recently, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) announced a partnership with an Israeli startup, Electeon, to roll out a one-of-a kind initiative to build a one-mile pavement in Michigan that will wirelessly charge EVs as commuter drive through.

Pawl told The Michigan Chronicle this project is slated to be in Detroit on Michigan Ave, in front of the Michigan Train Station.

Whenever new auto technology hits the market, drivers worry about affordability for the average consumer. Pawl told The Michigan Chronicle that the high expense of EVs is a misconception.

“There’s a couple of myths out there that I think in time will go away but do stand in the way of making electric vehicles feel like they’re for everybody. And that’s a big problem,” said Pawl.

“The first is the average cost of a used car right now is $33,000 and you can get an EV starting at $27,000. The Ford F150 Lightning, the first EV pickup truck, actually is the lowest cost to own over the life of the vehicle. So, by and large, across the board, EVs are going to be a lot cheaper to own over time.”

Pawl said the second factor to consider in affordability is wagering the cost of fuel versus electric charging, particularly in this era of high inflation.

“To fill up in some cases, like the Ford (Mustang) Mach-E, for example is 12 bucks for a full charge. Tesla’s Nissan Leaf is eight bucks and you’re gonna be getting more miles for your money,” said Pawl.

The clean energy prospects of the electric vehicle culture shift are expected to have a high impact on Detroit’s carbon footprint due to the toxic byproduct of vehicle exhaust pollution.

“When you take that same methodology (of reducing cost) and think about the future work vehicle and off-road equipment,” said Pawl, “It plays out the same way, with things becoming cheaper, but also your air becomes cleaner.”

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), an average passenger vehicle emits around 4.6 metric tons of CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) every year. Car-related pollution accounts for 41% of global transportation emissions.

In 2021, the EPA released their annual Automotive Trends Report showing vehicles built by Detroit’s Big Three automakers produced the most emissions and had the worst (Miles per Gallon) MPG ratings of all major producers in model year 2020.

“Areas in Detroit that were heavily emitting (air pollution), you have a chance with electric vehicles to really begin to change,” said Pawl. “As of 2017, emissions from transportation passed emissions from built infrastructure, like homes and factories, as the biggest cause of climate change. We have a chance to really change the world again, like we did 100 years ago, not just putting it on wheels, but really stopping it.”




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