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Lawmakers Consider Increased Alternative Fuel Service Along Nation's Highways

The not-yet-approved Clean Vehicle Corridors Act is the most recent of the many federal and state efforts to push for the use of alternative fuel vehicles in the United States.

On June 22, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) re-introduced his bill, first introduced in 2013, which would allow the Department of Transportation to establish clean vehicle corridors along interstates nationwide. The corridors would provide spaces for fueling and charging stations, travel plazas, rest stops and other roadside infrastructure.

The act would also allow states to modify high-occupancy vehicle lane restrictions to include AFVs and to create designated alternative fuel parking spaces.

Alternative fuel vehicles include those powered by compressed natural gas (CNG), electric, propane, biofuels, and hydrogen, to name a few. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, there were more than one million AFVs in use in the nation in 2011, 25,000 of which were in Pennsylvania.

Casey cites PA as a state that has been “at the forefront of clean energy development,” especially in natural gas production. The resource is abundant in the tri-state area, making it a cheap alternative to petroleum-based fuels, according to Matt Godlewski, president of Natural Gas Vehicles for America (NGVAmerica), a national advocacy group that works closely with lawmakers to create legislation encouraging natural gas usage throughout the country.

“It’s typically around, even with today’s prices, about $1 cheaper per gallon than its gasoline or diesel equivalent,” he said.

Not only is natural gas abundant and cheap, said Godlewski, but also it reduces greenhouse gas emissions at the point of combustion, making it a clean-burning fuel. But perhaps most importantly, increasing the use of alternative fuels lessens the United States’ dependence on foreign oil.

“Natural gas is here at home,” he said. “We’re taking it from the US so we’re not having to rely on imported oil, we’ve got natural gas here, so using it as a transportation fuel just makes good sense.”

Godlewski said though the Clean Vehicle Corridors Act is broader than NGVAmerica’s natural gas focus, the group is still encouraged by Casey’s proposal.

“This certainly looks like something that we’ll be able to support and has a lot of positive things in terms of helping promote development of the infrastructure necessary to have natural gas vehicles around the country,” he said.

Pittsburgh Region Clean Cities (PRCC) is an offshoot of the U.S. Department of Energy that works to implement alternative fuel infrastructure and to provide AFV education in 33 western PA counties. Rick Price, PRCC coalition coordinator, said he hopes Casey’s bill will boost the use of AFVs locally and nationally, particularly for heavy duty vehicles with poor gas mileage, such as tractors and buses. He estimated that if the bill were to pass, it might create alternative fueling stations every 40 to 50 miles along the corridors.

PennDOT is also taking steps to accommodate alternative fuel vehicles. According to spokesperson Rich Kirkpatrick, the department is developing a plan to place CNG fueling stations at public transit agencies throughout PA. As of right now, however, it won’t consider a future specifically with clean vehicle corridors until the act is passed.

“It’s really too early to speculate,” said Kirkpatrick. “We’ll have to see what happens if, in fact, Congress and the President carry through and the bill becomes law, and at that point, we would have to take a look and see what the implications would be.”