Stung by criticism that a new Interstate 5 bridge could be a flat concrete eyesore, planners are exploring whether they could install wind turbines on it to call attention to the Northwest’s commitment to sustainability.
Preliminary concepts would not install turbines like the spinners built on top of towers at the east end of the Columbia River Gorge.
Instead, less intrusive vertical axis turbines might be suspended beneath an arch, like vertical blinds covering a window. Another idea would have curvy, helix-shaped turbines mounted in transparent cylinders next to the bridge’s sidewalk, as sculptures are mounted on some bridges in European capitals.
How much electricity they would generate, and for what use and at what cost, have emerged as one some early questions planners are pursuing.
Though still in the conceptual stages, bridge planners have latched onto sustainability as a potential theme for bridge aesthetics, even if wind turbines are not included in final designs.
The idea has appeal, because it would unite a local political and lifestyle concern with the Columbia River’s plentiful wind capacity, said Bradley Touchstone, a Tallahassee, Fla.-based bridge architect who has been hired to help improve the bridge’s looks.
Though wind energy may not be the final choice for the nearly $4 billion Columbia River Crossing project, sustainability as a theme seems to hold some appeal.
“This community is leading the nation, certainly, in the area of conservation, and wouldn’t it be great is this project could scream out to the world that this is a priority for us?” Touchstone said. “Can this project advance that notion of resource conservation in a way that’s meaningful and also in a way that’s visible?”
At this early stage, planners don’t know what it could cost to add turbines to the project or whether they could generate enough energy to power bridge lights or other functions.