Brick streets: They’re rough, but they’ve stood the test of time

By JOSH COTTON

jcotton@timesobserver.com

While not the smoothest ride, there are roads in the City of Warren that don’t have potholes.

Brick ones.

Speckled throughout the downtown area and the south side, the brick streets that remain continue to serve their purpose today.

City of Warren Department of Public Works Director Mike Holtz said that the brick streets in the city were installed during the 1920s and 1930s as part of New Deal programs, such as the Works Progress Administration, or WPA.

And they have stood the test of winters for the last eight decades, while receiving little extra treatment.

“We plow them the same,” said Holtz. “We only do anything different when it gets cold and it snows. We always say you have to go hit the bridges and the concrete (and) brick streets and school routes. They tend to get treated first.”

Why? Because brick freezes faster than asphalt.

Holtz noted that the brick streets are likely to receive “a little more additional salt than a blacktop street.”

While brick streets are not much more expensive in the realm of snow removal, maintenance is a whole different story.

“They are very expensive to maintain,” said Holtz. “We really only address them when a utility cut is made. We have to put the utility cut back together or (repair) a sink hole that is really bad.”

He explained the city will, among a host of other things, actually put out for bid every couple of years for brick street repairs. The most recent estimate was $8.25 per square foot. Holtz said concrete came in at $4.55 per square foot and noted that “asphalt is even less than that.”

That can make repairs cost prohibitive and, while it might not happen often, brick streets can still fall prey to the dreaded pothole disease.

“Bricks don’t normally pop out (but rather) typically fall in,” he said. “You can’t patch the hole. You have to take enough brick out, fix the sub-base and put it back together. It is a lot of money to do a pothole.”

But the streets have a certain degree of protection.

“The City of Warren passed an ordinance many years ago and part of the city’s ordinance, (the city is) not allowed to just take up a brick street and pave over it” without city council approval, Holtz explained. He said the ordinance was passed ” in the late ’80s or ’90s, when the historic district was being put together… Any that are brick have to remain brick. We got a fair amount of brick streets.”

And there are many more that you can’t see because they have been paved over. “Many, many of the City’s streets that are paved have brick underneath them. If you go around and look like on Fifth St. or Third St. or Pa. Ave. where he potholes are deep, you can see the brick.”

Because of the cost, the city “over the years has not done a lot of work on the brick streets,” said Holtz. “It’s starting to show. They’re great. They’ve been around for 70 or 80 years (and have) certainly lasted. (The) city will have to start to address some of the blocks. (It) will be a cost consideration.”