California: The Path to Zero-Emission Transportation Means Everything Must Go Electric

Work used to be much simpler for the California Department of Transportation: Widen highways, fill potholes, build new freeways.

Alas, those quaint days are gone.

To get an idea of what planners must prepare for, state officials recently hosted a demonstration of a drone air taxi that will require devising a “highway above the ground,” said Reza Navai, a Caltrans transportation planner. “If you think transportation on the ground is complex.…”

Such sci-fi-like transit is one of many high-tech changes coming as California implements its planned electrification of transportation to radically reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. The path to zero, as in zero-emission vehicles, extends well beyond flying taxis and the 5 million electric cars the state hopes will be on its roads by 2030. Everything—everything—will be replaced with an electric analog: from boats, planes, and trains to delivery vans to farm tractors and even forklifts. The to-do list stretches as long as California’s seemingly endless blacktop, with freight as a major challenge.