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COLUMN: KEEP OREGON MOVING

The West Coast Electric Highway is helping in the fight against climate change.

COURTESY: ODOT - A charging station that is part of the West Coast Electric Highway.The next time you're traveling on Interstate 5 check out the electric vehicle charging stations you see along the way. You'll find them at hotels, service stations, restaurants, shops and many of the typical facilities along major highways.

These charging stations are part of the West Coast Electric Highway, a network of EV stops that stretch down the West Coast of Canada and the United States, from British Columbia to Baja California in Mexico. Built in 2012, the West Coast Electric Highway has helped tens of thousands of electric vehicle owners make longer trips between cities with confidence they can top up their electric or hybrid vehicles along the way.

The success of the West Coast Electric Highway is crucial to Oregon's fight against climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions from transportation make up 40% of emissions in our state, and greenhouse gases are a major contributor to climate change. Transitioning to more electric and cleaner vehicles is key to a cleaner future.

PEITZThe West Coast Electric Highway is a powerful incentive for EV adoption. People are more likely to buy electric for their next vehicle — be it a daily commuter, off-road warrior or weekend cruiser — if they have confidence in Oregon's charging network.

So far, the incentive is working. Electric vehicle use has surged in Oregon over the last several years. Today, there are more than 32,000 registered electric vehicles on our roads, and that number is steadily rising.

The electric vehicle world has grown substantially. Battery technology is improving every year, allowing electric vehicles to travel farther on a single charge. Major auto manufacturers are expanding their electric vehicle fleets to include SUVs, pick-ups, vans and even semi-trucks. General Motors recently pledged to eliminate gasoline and diesel light-duty cars and SUVs by 2035..

The shift can't come soon enough. In Oregon, our changing climate worsens wildfires, floods and landslides. These events cost Oregon hundreds of millions each year and significantly harm the traveling public and our state's economy. And we all know about the devastating wildfires that ravaged the state last September, reaching the outer edges of the Portland area. The statewide toll was more than 5,000 homes and businesses destroyed and 1.2 million acres burned.

So if you consider the drastic, negative effects of climate change and add to that increased EV adoption rates, the next step is clear: invest in the West Coast Electric Highway and other charging networks. We need our charging stations to be widespread, compatible with myriad electric vehicles, and accessible to all Oregonians.

You'll see investments in the West Coast Electric Highway over the next few years, the result of a partnership between ODOT and industry. EV owners can expect faster chargers, more plugs per charger, and a wider variety of plug types. The upgrades will serve more drivers and get them where they need to go more efficiently.

Our vision isn't limited to the West Coast Electric Highway. We're starting our first major effort to study Oregon and the region's charging needs, in partnership with the Oregon Department of Energy. It's called the Transportation Electrification Infrastructure Needs Analysis.

The goal of the analysis is simple: study Oregon's current charging infrastructure, identify gaps, and propose solutions. The study will account for urban and rural differences, and include other types of EV's, like heavy-duty trucks, buses, bicycles and scooters. An advisory group will guide the study, and its members represent utilities, local governments, nonprofit groups and the auto industry. Learn more about the study online.

This effort comes from our new Climate Office, formed in March 2020 and now leading the agency's efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation and shrink ODOT's carbon footprint.

The rapid evolution of electric vehicles is poised to change the way we travel throughout our state, and the West Coast Electric Highway is the backbone of that movement.

It's one thing to talk about emissions, network upgrades, climate change and the like, and quite another to actually do something. We're working to do something and make a real difference.


Amanda Pietz is director of the ODOT Climate Office. Comments can be directed to 866-Ask-ODOT.


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