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Illinois Tollway Considers Wireless EV Charging

Electric vehicles could charge as they drive on the interstate

CHICAGO -- Illinois’ tollway agency is considering whether to install wireless charging equipment on Interstate 294 that would enable electric vehicles (EVs) to charge up as they drive.

The Illinois Tollway Highway Authority is examining how to install EV charging along I-294 as the agency embarks on a $4 billion project to widen and rebuild a 22-mile portion of the interstate, according to the Chicago Tribune

The Illinois Tollway is examining “smart-powered lane” technology currently being tested in Sweden. Charging infrastructure would be embedded under the pavement, Kevin Artl, COO of the Illinois Tollway, Downers Grove, Ill., told the newspaper. As EVs drive over the charging equipment, electricity would transfer to a receiver on the bottom of their frames and wirelessly charge their batteries. While these wireless receivers are not currently standard on EVs, they could become so in the future, tollway officials said.

The officials pointed to wireless-charging pilot projects that are also in the consideration and planning stages near the Port of Los Angeles, a stretch of road near the Denver Airport often used by car rental businesses and commuter buses, and around the Salt Lake City area.

“It’s moving out of the research phase and into a ‘let’s look at pilot projects and get some real-world experience in the elements,’ ” Rick Young, vice president for engineering firm AECOM and program manager for the design of the central Tri-State Tollway, told the Tribune.

The Illinois Tollway is also considering off-highway charging, which could include wireless “static” charging stations, as well as more conventional Level II and Level III DC fast-charger stations. The latter can provide up to an 80% charge on an EV battery in about 30 minutes.

Future Demand

The agency is weighing what future demand could be for wireless EV charging and expects to reach a decision on installing the equipment within the next two years, Artl said. Construction is expected to be complete in 2026.

In considering the EV charging infrastructure along the tollway, the agency wants to be prepared to support what it believes will be a growing fleet of EVs. “It’s definitely something the marketplace is adopting and consumers are using,” Artl told the Tribune. “The Tollway is a consumer-driven entity. We want to be prepared for what our consumers are using in the next 10, 20, 30, 40 years, as we build roads that last 50 years.”

The tollway still needs to determine how much of the road would receive the charging equipment, cost estimates and how to charge EV drivers for using the amenity.

Michael Sturino, president of the Illinois Road and Transportation Builders Association, told the Tribune that more charging infrastructure would encourage EV drivers to use toll roads. “This could really be a game changer and take the concern about range off the table, at least for those who use the tollway system,” he said. His group expects that truck fleets and buses will transition to electrification before passenger vehicles.

Should I-294 receive wireless charging equipment, it would be the first toll road to have the technology, Artl said. He expects it could be used by passenger and commercial vehicles as well as commuter buses and tollway vehicles.

“All of those things could ultimately run in a seamless route without ever having to stop and get a charge,” he said.

Photograph courtesy of Illinois Tollway. 

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