Combine river, wind, eco-friendliness and smooth sailing across the Columbia River and what do you have? A new Interstate 5 bridge with wind turbines generating electricity.
You read that right: The latest bridge design features vertically spinning turbines that would generate an unknown amount of juice while proclaiming loudly that the Portland-Vancouver area is the sustainability center of the world.
Or so says the Florida firm that did the design, now winning the affections of leaders from both cities as well as planners trying to eliminate congestion by building a new $4 billion structure.
It’s unknown how much energy the turbines would generate or how it would be used. The turbines might help power bridge lights and toll booths. Or they could be merely decorative icons of a green industry hereabouts –a problem for purists who say that’s less than sustainable.
Either way, the concept has captured the imagination of local leaders scrutinizing the project and local architects pushing for a bridge that looks as good as it functions.
No one has figured out the cost, either, or potential payback on the energy generation. That comes later, if the project sails.
Oregon and Washington still must persuade Congress to help fund a mammoth construction effort that joins expanded roadway with light rail running to Vancouver. It could take years and exert real force in the way the region continues to develop, particularly north of Vancouver.
Wind turbines, meanwhile, could elevate and transform the public profile of the Columbia River Crossing project, stung by criticism that a new bridge would be an eyesore. An early rendering showed a flat concrete bridge much like Interstate 205’s Glenn Jackson Bridge. Several factors had come into play, among them tiny Pearson Airfield, east of Vancouver, whose airspace limits the grandness of a high structure.
Now comes Bradley Touchstone, a Tallahassee, Fla.-based bridge architect hired to help improve the bridge’s looks.
“This community is leading the nation, certainly, in the area of conservation, and wouldn’t it be great if this project could scream out to the world that this is a priority for us?” Touchstone asks. “Can this project advance that notion of resource conservation in a way that’s meaningful and also in a way that’s visible?”
Touchstone’s preliminary designs would avoid the familiar propeller-style turbines associated with wind farms east of the Columbia River Gorge. Instead, less intrusive vertical axis turbines would spin pillars within arching spans, appearing as vertical blinds in a window. Another design features curvy, helix-shaped turbines mounted in transparent cylinders next to the bridge’s sidewalk, just as sculptures are mounted on some bridges in European capitals.