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This story comes from our partner, 90.5 WESA.

Electric vehicle drivers in Pennsylvania could soon have more options to charge up thanks to a $5 billion program included in the bipartisan infrastructure bill. The state could receive $171.5 million over the next five years to build a network of charging stations along major highways.

The funding comes from a larger plan by the Biden administration to put new or upgraded electric charging stations every 50 miles along interstate highways. The goal is to give drivers more incentive to buy electric vehicles.

Biden promised the nationwide network during the 2020 presidential campaign as a way to boost electric vehicle sales to 50% of overall vehicle sales by 2030. The effort is part of a wider effort to make the U.S. zero-emissions economy-wide by 2050.

Pennsylvania is eligible for $25 million in the first phase of funding this year.
Construction could begin as early as this fall. Pennsylvania is slated to receive the fifth most money for the project, behind Texas, California, Florida and New York.

The highway buildout will add to the 1,078 public charging locations across Pennsylvania. While some portions of Southwestern Pennsylvania highways —including parts of I-376, I-76, I-79 and I-70— are considered “electric vehicle ready” by the Federal Highway Administration, the federal program would expand that designation. The FHWA considers a highway electric vehicle ready when public fast chargers are fewer than 50 miles apart.

Map of charging stations in SW Pa.

Some major highways around Southwestern Pennsylvania have already been designated as “electric vehicle ready,” meaning charging stations are within 50 miles of each other. The green line designates a highway as an electric vehicle ready corridor. The orange line designates a highway as pending. Source: Federal Highway Administration

Widespread public access to charging stations could clear a major barrier for hesitant consumers. Half of drivers surveyed in a Consumer Reports study cited inadequate charging infrastructure as a major issue holding them back from going electric.

“A century ago, America ushered in the modern automotive era; now America must lead the electric vehicle revolution,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told the Associated Press. Buttigieg will have final sign-off over most aspects of the funding.

Pennsylvania Congressman Conor Lamb applauded the news Thursday as a win for the economy and the environment.

“This is great news for the environment and for union jobs,” said Lamb. “This $25 billion federal investment will jump-start the work to build the electric vehicle transportation technology and infrastructure for our state and our region.”

Western Pennsylvania electrical workers praised the potential new jobs supported by the funding.

“We’re already training the men and women who are going to build this network of electric vehicle charging stations here in western Pennsylvania,” said Thomas R. McIntyre, IBEW Local Union No. 5 business manager. “The federal funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law [Lamb] helped to pass will ensure that work gets done.”

Each new charging station will feature at least four fast-charger ports, which are able to fully charge vehicles in about an hour. The funding will focus on charging station buildout along highways, rather than in neighborhoods and public community spaces.

But Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection expects to spend $2.2 million this year on transportation projects that include community public electric charging and fuel stations.

The majority of electric vehicle owners primarily charge up at home. But consumers who park on the street or live in apartment buildings rely on public charging infrastructure. Improving access to charging stations near home or along major highways will become critical as more consumers switch to electric vehicles.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told the AP that the aim of the federal funds is to save Americans money and help them travel longer distances.

“We are modernizing America’s national highway system for drivers in cities large and small, towns and rural communities, to take advantage of the benefits of driving electric,” she said.