Fixing a one-block section of brick street is a given, but how to handle the rest of the city's original brick roadways is up in the air as city officials mull options for next year's budget.
When volunteers peeled back a 2-inch layer of asphalt from Mississippi Street two years ago, they uncovered the nostalgia, rhythm and history of its original brick driving surface.
They also unearthed a lingering problem.
The one-block section of Mississippi, from Seventh to Eighth streets, must be rebuilt because of huge ruts that developed since the asphalt was removed, said George Williams, the city's director of public works. The work could cost up to $400,000.
The culprit: Water that used to run off the street now seeps between the single layer of bricks and into the road's already weak base, leading to unintentional speed bumps and bumper-swallowing gullies.
Lawrence city commissioners are working with city staffers to smooth things out, but it appears that a concrete solution for the 95-year-old surface remains somewhere down the road.
"Mississippi Street is a good example of a plan that went south," Commissioner Marty Kennedy said. "What we need to do is bite the bullet on this one and do some major repair to it and put it back to brick. We're going to have to tear that one up and put it down right.
"The question is, again -- like many of the projects up here -- funding. And I don't have any idea on that yet."
Estimates to fix the block of bricks run as high as $400,000, and that's what caught the eye of commissioners Wednesday as they discussed next year's budget during a study session at city hall.
Commissioners kicked around ideas and listened to suggestions for handling the immediate problem along Mississippi and the future of other brick streets in town, where asphalt has been removed to unveil long-lasting, character-preserving and traffic-calming surfaces.
Among their ideas:
- Create a specific maintenance program for brick streets, much like the city's annual overlay program for asphalt roadways. Properly cared-for brick streets can last for decades, compared to asphalt surfaces that need replacement every seven to 15 years.
- Check out brick-restoration programs in other surrounding cities. In Holton, for example, officials hire temporary crews to handle refurbishing jobs one block at a time.
- Uncover more brick streets, but make sure that taking away asphalt would not cause problems such as those on Mississippi.
Commissioner Mike Rundle, who lives in Old West Lawrence, said preserving brick streets was necessary for keeping Lawrence special.
"It's part of the character of the historic areas, and leads to a different ambiance and quality that is part of the charm that keeps people coming to Lawrence," he said.
Brick streets also help slow traffic, a common desire for residents of neighborhoods across town, Commissioner David Dunfield said. He wants to look into not only preserving existing brick streets, but also consider installing bricks at intersections in new areas.
"We need to know what all of our alternatives are," he said.
Former Commissioner Allen Levine, who helped chip away chunks of pavement from Mississippi Street in 1997, knows a bit about the situation. From his front door, he looks out over a cast iron horse-hitching post, a magnificent limestone curb and more.
"One of the biggest moguls on Mississippi is directly in front of my house," he said. "I'm glad I own a truck with high clearance."
Even so, Levine said that many of his neighbors appreciate the brick street out front and hoped that the city could find a way to preserve it.
"The differences are what make us unique," Levine said. "In this neighborhood it's brick streets and alleyways, iron hitching posts and old homes. In other neighborhoods it's quiet cul-de-sacs.
"I think we need to preserve the different aspects that make each neighborhood unique and that give them special character."
-- Mark Fagan's phone message number is 832-7188. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.