National Alternative Fuel Corridor: Michigan to Montana
The freedom to hit the open road has always been at the center of our love affair with the automobile. But for some drivers and fleet operators, trying to choose a vehicle powered by a cleaner domestic fuel like natural gas or electricity has meant limiting that freedom due to gaps in the nationwide fueling and charging infrastructure. Well, that is rapidly changing as more and more major highways and roads are being designated Alternative Fuel Corridors, knocking down the final barriers for making clean fuels the best alternative no matter where the road takes you!
The National Alternative Fuel Corridor Network includes parts of 220 heavily traveled interstates and highways in 49 states and DC, covering more than 145,000 miles.
One vital link, the Michigan to Montana I-94 Alternative Fuel Corridor, or M2M, is the result of a joint effort between clean cities coalitions and critical government and industry partners, like the Gas Technology Institute, throughout the Midwest. Funded in part by the U.S. Department of Energy, it runs 1500 miles along Interstate 94 from Port Huron, Michigan at the Canadian border, all the way to Billings, Montana.
It passes through the major cities of Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis, but also countless small towns, and miles upon miles of rolling farmland. The M2M corridor is a vital link for long-haul trucking as well as a prime mover for expanding the use of propane, biodiesel, ethanol, natural gas and electric with regional fleet operators.
SAMANTHA BINGHAM: "This project and projects like it across the country, help those fleets to expand their use of alternative fuels, to use it along more routes. And then also it helps encourage fleets that aren’t using alternative fuels currently, they can see that these routes are supported and that it encourages them to adopt alternative fuel vehicles and switch out their petroleum-based vehicles."
Compressed natural gas is an affordable and abundant U.S.-sourced fuel that can help to reduce greenhouse gases and other harmful emissions. Ozinga’s red striped trucks are a common sight around Chicago and northwest Indiana, and since 2013, the company has been converting its fleet of 500 ready-mix trucks to run on CNG. At the same time, it expanded its own business to become a regional natural gas fuel provider, now operating seven public-access CNG stations in the area, which makes it more practical for other fleets who want to switch to CNG.
Propane is another popular alternative fuel option, especially with fleets. Along the alternative fuel corridors, uniform signage nationwide indicates which type of fuel is most plentiful. But in our 3,000-mile trek for this story, we found that word of mouth travels faster still.
TIM RAHN: "And there are vehicles out there. We've got 10 or 15 people that stop every single week. Coming through, going to the cabin, coming home..and they support us, they know we have it, it's easy to use, it’s safe to use, and it’s cheap. The last three months we’ve been 80, 80 to 85 cents a gallon cheaper than regular gasoline. It was a diversity, it’s something that nobody else has in this area, and we wanted to be the first to have it."
Schwan’s frozen foods has a fleet of more than 600 propane-fueled delivery vehicles and has also built out their own fueling infrastructure, but smaller fleets, like Groome Transportation, are also reaping the benefits of the M2M corridor.
SCOTT HAYES: "Before, when we ran down to Minneapolis, we would run out about halfway up, so now with this corridor being built out, it’ll give us more opportunities to fill up with propane and we will have the opportunity to run cleaner, longer."
Also included in the Alternative Fuel Corridor designations is the availability of electric vehicle charging stations, especially fast-charging, convenient to the interstates.
The EV charging infrastructure has been expanding rapidly for the past decade. At the far end of our journey, in Fargo, North Dakota, three new fast-charging sites are coming online, helping to make frontier destinations like these, once considered remote, more accessible and convenient for EV drivers.
CHAD BROUSSEAU: "It’s a win-win, we’re a member-owned electric cooperative, not for profit, so it’s good for the members, good for us, uh, not only is it electric sales for Cass County Electric but an electric vehicle in the right circumstance, can be a money-saver for the electric vehicle owner in reduced operating and maintenance costs."
In the drive to curb emissions and make America less dependent on imported oil for transportation, spurring development of cleaner alternative fuel vehicles and building out a national network of convenient fueling points for natural gas, propane, hydrogen and electric vehicles goes hand in hand.
SAMANTHA BINGHAM: "Also the M2M Corridor really demonstrates that cities and states and utilities and fuel providers and retailers can all work together, across state lines to make this infrastructure, this clean fuel infrastructure, available."
The Michigan to Montana Alternative Fuel Corridor project is fast making these fuels a fine first choice for everyone!
Tire Tracks: 1971 Alfa Romeo GTV 1750
In the 137-year history of the automobile, there have been many that both captured our attention, and progressed to legendary status. But then there are others that, while coveted when new, are less well known to collectors of today. Now, one such car recently caught the eye of our own Roger Mecca, who decided this particular Italian coupe deserved a return to the spotlight.
ROGER MECCA: For many devoted gearheads, there’s that one car classic car they yearn for, endlessly scouring websites, auction catalogues and local car shows looking to find that pristine example or restorable project– that Holy Grail to make their car dreams a reality.
For these fanatics, just mentioning that particular make and model can induce regret-filled stories of missed opportunities or a longwinded discussion on why it’s the ultimate in driving excellence.
Once such example is the Alfa Romeo GTV, produced between 1965 and 1974. It was a designed to be the great balance between a family car and something you could rip down any tight Italian road. And while it’s flown under the radar for many car fans, most Alfa enthusiasts will tell you this is what made the brand so iconic.
Richard Garre owns this 1971 Alfa Romeo GTV 1750, a car he’s loved for 50 years. In 1973, a college roommate who owned a GTV tossed Richard the keys and they went for a drive. Within moments, he had an epiphany.
RICHARD GARRE: I was in the car for about 10 minutes and I go, ‘I need to own this car!’
It had everything. It had the looks, it had the sound, it just– it, it had just such a great visceral experience. I go, ‘this is it- I gotta own this car!’”
The GTV, after driving it and owning it, it really did kind of change my life, especially towards being in the car business. I realized after working on cars for a while, that, uh, I think this is a good business I’m gonna be in. So, the start of my senior year, I was looking for employment either, you know, twisting wrenches or working for a car company or a dealership.
ROGER MECCA: Which he did from then on, including once having his own shop that specialized in, you guessed it, Alfa Romeos, and other high-end European brands.
There were four main variations of the GTV, based on the displacement of the 4-cylinder twin cam aluminum engine. The 1300, the 1600, the 1750, and the 2000. Now, while each has their own followers, most Alfa fans, including Richard, will tell you the 1750 is the sweet spot. It gives you the best balance of power and finesse.
Delivering 130 horsepower and 125 pounds of torque, the 1750 redlines at 7000 RPM. And when you get there, the little 1.8 liter starts to sing. Downshifting and throttling into a corner, it sounds and feels like you must be going 80, though you’re barely doing 30. In fact, it takes almost 10 seconds to reach 60. But trust me, when everything feels and sounds this good, you don’t care.
The five-speed doesn’t like to be rushed, but it’s velvety smooth. The feather-light steering provides intuitive feedback and the cornering grip and stability encourage you to go harder and faster.
The GTV is so much fun to drive, you almost forget just how great it looks- even 45 years later. It was the first model designed by the legendary Giorgetto Giugiaro, created when he was just 22 years old. Known for such icons as the Lotus Esprit and BMW M1, he never liked the GTV. Though it’s hard to understand why. Simultaneously masculine and elegant, one look and there is no mistake what the GTV was designed for: driving fast and having fun, but still being refined and exotic.
Now, if you’d like to own a GTV, you are in luck because they made more than 40,000 of these over the years. The challenge, however, is finding one that’s in really good shape.
These were notorious rust buckets, and a lot of people didn’t treat them very well, so finding one that’s in excellent condition- that can be a hassle. Finding one that’s in perfect condition? That can cost you $100,000.
But if you do find one to make your own, please do yourself and every GTV lover like Richard a favor: don’t keep it safely tucked away like a museum showpiece. Drive it as often as you can, just like Alfa Romeo intended. But I have a feeling that once you get behind the wheel, that won’t be a problem.