Saving brick streets in historic Downtown

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Part of the charm of Downtown Orlando is the brick streets that crisscross the old neighborhoods. There are many reasons why Downtown residents love our brick streets:

  • Bricks slow down traffic
  • Bricks add to the historic character of Downtown Orlando
  • Bricks can increase property values in a neighborhood
  • Bricks allow run-off water to soak in better than pavement
  • Bricks are better for tree roots
  • Bricks are aesthetically pleasing
  • Bricks can be put back down after utility work, whereas blacktop or concrete has to be torn up and replaced
  • Although bricks cost more to install and repair, they can last five times as long as asphalt and don’t break down as often

Just like any type of street, maintaining brick streets can be a hot button issue. Potholes in some brick streets have been patched with asphalt, leaving an unsightly hodgepodge in the historic neighborhoods, while other brick streets wreak havoc on tire alignments.

Brick Streets Hill Ave. rehab (Photo by Logan Lamphere)

John Moore in Thornton Park has been asking the city to repair Summerlin Avenue for over four years. A minor repair was done, but then waterline problems caused more damage. Moore is still waiting to hear from Orlando Utilities Commission (OUC) about when Summerlin will be repaired.

The city passed a $3.5 million bond in May to help pay for brick-street rehabilitation. Currently, about 8% of Orlando streets are paved in brick (about 57 miles). For comparison, Winter Park’s roads are 25% brick streets. Work was completed on Hill Avenue in October as a test with the brick-restoration contractor, according to Lisa Henry, Streets and Stormwater Division Manager with the City of Orlando.

The city’s Public Works Department hired a specialized consultant to perform a “Pavement Condition Survey.” Brick streets receive a “PASER” rating from zero to four; the lower the number, the higher the distress. Streets with a rating of zero to two have been selected for rehabilitation, according to Henry.

“Our pavement manager then drove every street segment rated zero to two to confirm the computerized model score,” Henry wrote in an email. “We then removed street segments we know are either slated for underground utility repairs, or we observed potential underground utility issues. We did that because the individual project, and corresponding utility owner, will fund (pay for) the brick-street restoration cost. This way, we allow the $3.5 million [to] go further.” 

This accounts for the delay with Summerlin Avenue, which has utility issues.

Requesting money to repair and maintain brick streets can be an annual battle, according to City Commissioner Patty Sheehan. A petition effort is currently being circulated among the Downtown neighborhood associations to express support for a permanent, annual budget line item to repair and maintain the brick streets of the historic neighborhoods of Orlando. Maintaining Downtown’s historic brick streets stands a much better chance if the city annually budgets for street repair.

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