City driving to get roadway test grant

Scott and Julie Brusaw stand at the edge of their recently-completed Solar Roadways parking lot. (Courtesy photo)

SANDPOINT — The completion of the Solar Roadways parking lot could lay the foundation for a similarly tech-equipped roadway in Sandpoint.

Local engineers Scott and Julie Brusaw unveiled their prototype Solar Roadways lot Monday, a 12-by-36 foot testing zone designed to replicate commercial parking lots. The revelation marks the next stage for the project, which the Brusaws believe could revolutionize both transportation and energy generation throughout the country.

Of course, before you can go big, you have to start small somewhere. According to Public Works Director Kody Van Dyk, that somewhere could be downtown Sandpoint. He said his department plans to request a grant from the Federal Highway Administration that would allow for the conversion of a local sidewalk and driving surface to Solar Roadways technology.

“The city and Solar Roadways have been in contact for a long time, and we’re very, very interested in doing a project with them,” Van Dyk said.

The grant would fall under the FHWA’s accelerated innovation deployment grant program, a rolling grant fund that has no deadline. Its purpose is to get exciting new ideas and technology out into the public early, giving them a chance to test it on a small scale before implementing it into grander designs. Since the FHWA has already partnered with Solar Roadways in funding its early stages, Van Dyk sees the grant as a natural extension of an established relationship.

If the city secures the grant, a portion of a downtown street would be converted to Solar Roadway panels, which consist of energy-generating solar cells sandwiched between four-square-foot glass hexagon panels. These glass panels have been tested by civil engineering labs for traction, durability and strength, and the data indicates they’re suitable as a safe walking or driving surface, Scott Brusaw said.

“All of the results were outstanding,” he added in an email. “That was a huge hurdle for us on this round of funding from the Federal Highway Administration.”

The panels also include a heating element that can be activated to melt snow and ice from the surface and LED lights that will eventually be programmable into traffic lines, safety messages and more.

According to Van Dyk, the technology would certainly make for an eye-catching section of downtown Sandpoint. His department hasn’t yet determined a location for the proposed solar street, but they’re considering areas like Cedar Street, the city parking lot, City Beach and more. Van Dyk also invites the public to weigh in with their ideas for potential locations. Sandpoint Public Works can be reached at 263-3407.       

“What we know is we want it to be downtown and we want it to be somewhere very visible,” Van Dyk said.

As for Solar Roadways, the next step is to start running their new parking lot through the wringer. The prototype is fully equipped with the solar cells, heat element LEDs and super-strong glass panels. Eventually, it will be time to ramp up production by hiring a team to streamline production and move into manufacturing. Brusaw said they aim to launch an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign on Earth Day, April 22 to begin this process.

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