Pushing the EnvelopeApril 12, 2022
By James Martinez
In February, Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced that Electreon was selected to build a public wireless in-road charging system on a one mile of road in Detroit within the Michigan Central mobility innovation district. The electric road system – the first of its kind in the nation – pilots technology that would allow electric vehicles (EVs) to extend their charge without stopping and is designed to keep Michigan at the forefront of EV innovation.
This comes as a once-in-a-generation infusion of funding from the governor’s 2020 Rebuilding Michigan $3.5 billion bonding effort and the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is providing a unique opportunity to rebuild and modernize. It also, creates a juxtaposition as Michigan’s roads and bridges are in poor condition and have been for years, drawing D- and C- grades, respectively, from the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2018.
The Detroiter sat down with Michigan Department of Transportation Director Paul C. Ajegba to discuss MDOT’s work. Answers have been edited for clarity and length.
Q: MICHIGAN’S ROADS AND BRIDGES RATED POORLY BY THE AMERICAN SOCIETY OF CIVIL ENGINEERS. HOW DO YOU DIG OUT OF THAT HOLE?
We are slowly digging out of a 40- year disinvestment hole. A lot of infrastructure was rated in very poor and bad condition. To climb out of that hole takes a lot of money and time. And when our governor came in, she gave us $3.5 billion in January 2020, and said: “Go to work and start fixing these roads.” You can see a lot of the results now. Last year 2021 was the highest we’ve ever spent on infrastructure with $2.6 billion. And this year with the infusion of federal money, with the governor’s Rebuilding Michigan money, we’re probably going to spend over $3.5 billion.
Q: WHY IS THE INDUCTIVE VEHICLE CHARGING PILOT AT MICHIGAN CENTRAL SO IMPORTANT?
Michigan is home to the auto industry, and the OEMs committed that by 2035 all their vehicles are going to be electric. For us, as a state infrastructure owner, it’s about what role do we play in making that happen. How do help support their vision, so we all get there together? And the governor’s idea with the inductive charging system is let’s pilot it and see if this works. If it works we may see more of this all over the country. It’s the first of its kind in the U.S. and all eyes are on us. We’ll make it work.
Q: DO YOU HAVE CONCERNS ABOUT INFRASTRUCTURE KEEPING UP WITH CONNECTED VEHICLE TECHNOLOGY?
That’s the challenge. If you look at the connected autonomous vehicle technology, MDOT and most of the state (departments of transportation) across the country have been keeping up because we realize this is a partnership between us and the manufacturers. And we’ve been in lockstep with them. So us being involved with this decision-making helps both sides share data and ideas and improve connectivity.
Q: ARE THERE ANY ADDITIONAL POLICIES NEEDED TO HELP INFRASTRUCTURE KEEP UP?
There’s talk about creating a connected autonomous vehicle and electric vehicle lane. That legislation is going through our state legislature to look at what that means, how it works, and how do you enforce it. This is all part of pushing the envelope to try new things that most states probably have not thought about or would not want to venture into. And that’s the beauty of what we are doing in Michigan. We have the leadership saying: ‘Go out there and try some new things with the OEMs.’
Q: HOW CLOSE WILL THIS INFLUX OF FUNDING GET US TO A MODERNIZED TRANSPORTATION INFRASTRUCTURE?
Those are some of the conversations that we need to start having with our legislature. We are funded based on gas tax as these electric vehicles are coming to the market. That means people are buying less gas. That means less tax revenue coming in. Eventually we have to have that conversation on how we replace the gas tax to fund our roadways.
James Martinez is editor of the Detroiter and a content creation consultant.