City experiments with uncovering historic brick roads

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Construction crews work on Red Cross street with trucks containing thermal heaters to break up asphalt. Photo by: James Mieczkowski

Exposed brick has recently made a comeback in architectural design, with renovated warehouses and old buildings becoming trendy and affordable locations for apartments and office spaces. It’s a trend that could play out in downtown Wilmington as city officials continue to green light road renovation projects with the the five-year improvement plan.

City officials wonder whether it will be more cost effective – in addition to aesthetically pleasing – to renovate roads by stripping asphalt and concrete from hundred-year-old brick streets.

According to Dylan Lee from the City of Wilmington’s Communications Office, city officials are currently creating a feasibility study or a “fact finding mission” to determine the best, most cost-effective way, to deal with repairing streets with damaged asphalt within the historic district. Included in the study is an experimental removal process using new thermal energy heaters to break up existing asphalt and expose the brick below, which could mean an increase in the city’s use of exposed brick roadways.

“We have a lot of brick streets covered with asphalt and situations come up where we might need to resurface, and we want to have this option at our disposal rather than re-paving,” said Lee. “It showcases our history here [in Wilmington] and if it’s economically feasible we want to present this option to the city council.”

Historic streets such as Red Cross are made of bricks dating back to the early 1900s, but with the city cutting spending on the expensive brick roads during the years after the Great Depression, Wilmington streets became developed with asphalt. Over time, in an effort to avoid the potential costly replacement of the bricks, some older roadways such as Red Cross were covered in asphalt as well.

However, according to Lee, repaving roads is an expensive investment, and while the asphalt has shown it will continue to fracture and break over time, the bricks for the most part have remained structurally sound.

“Up until now we haven’t had any feasible means of removing the asphalt, so it’s a new option for us,” said Lee. “And while the verdict is still out on whether this method is the best for us economically, we’re going to take a serious look at this trial and see what we find.”

Over the next few days City of Wilmington construction crews will continue with the experimental method of unearthing part of Red Cross Street’s antique treasure between Sixth and Eighth streets, and within the next year city staff will have a draft policy to be presented to city council. If this method proves to be a cost-efficient strategy, Wilmington could see more historical streets utilizing antique bricks once again.

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James Mieczkowski is a news reporter for Port City Daily. He can be reached at james.m@portcitydaily.com On Twitter: @mieczkowskiPCD