Imagine zipping down the road in your new electric car but with one nagging question: Is there a charging station nearby?
Soon you won't have to worry as much.
The Interstate 94 corridor from Detroit, Mich., to the Minnesota/North Dakota state line is one of 55 routes the Federal Highway Administration has designated nationally to promote alternative fuels and help drivers find vehicle charging stations nationwide.
Spanning 35 states and covering 85,000 miles, the new network was created under the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act.
The alternative fuel corridors designation will be used to promote electric, hydrogen, propane and natural gas vehicles by encouraging development of fueling and charging stations along these routes.
Electric vehicle sales continue to grow nationally. From January through June of this year, more than 64,000 electric vehicles were sold in the U.S., setting new monthly sale records along the way.
In Minnesota, 4,112 zero-emission vehicles were sold between 2011 and 2016, according to the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.
In Alexandria, there is some interest in electric cars but they aren't exactly flying off the lot.
Alexandria Motors has sold three Chevrolet Volts since they debuted about six years ago.
"Our first customer who bought one was a man in his 80s, and he loves it," said Brooke Steinbring, new car manager at Alexandria Motors.
The dealership sells the Volt and another hybrid vehicle, the Cadillac ELR, but most of its customers are "die-hard truck buyers," Steinbring said.
Electric or hybrid vehicles aren't a big seller at Juettner Motors in Alexandria either.
"There is interest, but they're just not that big here because of the increased price and the inconvenience of charging them," said Bruce Wiitanen, the dealership's vice president. "Plus, we don't have a lot of stop-and-go traffic like they do in the Cities."
Juettner Motors is, however, excited about a new gas/electric hybrid vehicle that's just rolling out - the Pacifica, which is replacing the Chrysler Town and Country. "Only a few dealerships were allocated to get them and we are one of them," Wiitanen said.
Even though sales of electric cars are flat locally, Alexandria Motors has an electric charging station that's generating a lot of activity. "Quite a few people have used it on road trips," Steinbring said.
There is one other charging station in Alexandria - at Goodwill, which has at least 10 stations at stores throughout the state.
As more charging stations become available, the future of electric vehicles looks bright, according to state transportation leaders.
"Alternative fuels and electric vehicles will play an integral part in the future of Minnesota's transportation," said Charlie Zelle, Minnesota Department of Transportation commissioner in a news release. "MnDOT is excited to be a part of helping drivers identify routes that will help them refuel and recharge those vehicles. Designating the I-94 Corridor is a great place to start the process."
Working in a partnership with Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, MnDOT submitted an application to designate I-94 as a "Zero Emissions Corridor," a type of alternative fuel corridor, to promote electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
Also, Interstate 94 from Minneapolis to St. Cloud has been designated as "signage-ready," according to Tim Sexton, MnDOT's Construction and Operations Section director.
"The designation means there is an existing network of public fast-charging stations close enough to one another to reliably travel the corridor with today's models of electric vehicles," Sexton said, adding that the highway administration is developing signs that are expected to look similar to those that alert drivers to gas stations, food and lodging.
State leaders said the I-94 corridor will ultimately help the environment.
"By supporting lower emission vehicles, alternative fuel corridors will help reduce transportation emissions, the leading source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions," said Fran Crotty, electric vehicle state program administrator for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
"Identifying where alternative fueling stations can be found will help the public in many ways," Zelle said. "We can accelerate the use of innovative vehicles, improve air quality and ensure that our transportation system meets the needs of the 21st century drivers."