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The City of Rochester is re-surfacing streets in my neighborhood. They finished grinding down the first layer and I noticed something. There's brick under there! So now I'm full of questions; I got in touch with Dan Plizga, the City of Rochester's Infrastructure Maintenance Supervisor, and wow, did he come thru with the answers.

How Many Brick Streets Are Still Under Rochester Streets

There are many very old streets throughout the City that have bricks under them (which if you look at many of the areas showing through, are in good shape for being very old!).

How Old Is the Brick Street Outside My Apartment Building?

The history we have on your street is that water main was installed in 1916 and sanitary sewer was installed in 1955.

Our best guess is that the bricks were installed around 1916 after the water main was installed. Then when the sanitary sewer was installed, the bricks may have been patched.

The oldest blacktop overlay date we have on your street is 1995 so best guess from our records is that it was brick until 1995 when it was paved over.

OK, I'm blown away at it being a brick street 'til 1995, but then again, there were cobblestone streets then (and even now) in the Pill Hill Neighborhood (it's true! scroll down to see).


Why Not Tear Out the Bricks?

...cost is the biggest factor why brick isn’t removed. Overlaying roads provides 15-20 years of life at the most reasonable cost.

The other factor on old roads in general (brick or not) is that there is often no base material underneath.

If you look at a typical residential road section today, you have 8-10” of gravel over a suitable subgrade followed by 5” of blacktop.

If you were to dig under the bricks on your street, guessing you would find some sand, maybe clay. This is not a suitable road base.

If the bricks were removed, you would need to subcut out all that sand/clay/dirt and put in base material that can properly support the blacktop roadway. Old roads were never designed to hold the loads or traffic volumes seen on todays roads – even residential streets. So that is why the bricks were left – to provide some level of stability to place the new blacktop surface on.

Cobblestone Streets in Portland, Maine. ()rill)

Will The City Ever Remove Bricks?

The City will remove the bricks as part of a reconstruction project. Reconstruction projects are often prioritized based on imminent or actual failure of the utilities (water/sewer mains) under the roadway.

Then everything under the roadway is replaced, curb and gutter is added, everything meets today’s standards.

4th Street SW Reconstruction - (Andy Brownell/Townsquare Media)

Reconstruction projects are very expensive with a portion of the costs assessed to property/business owners as an improvement. Our mill and overlay projects are, at this time, considered a maintenance activity with no additional cost to the property owners.

Mill and Overlay in Three Pictures

Rochester Public Works - Infrastructure Maintenance
Rochester Public Works - Infrastructure Maintenance
Rochester Public Works - Infrastructure Maintenance

Does Rochester have Any Brick Streets Left?

Lastly, there is one new brick road in Rochester – the 600 block of 9 Ave SW. That was a reconstruction project where property owners did pay for a portion of the cost of the reconstruction and elected to pay for the additional costs to go with a brick roadway. (Below is an older picture of it. - James)

Pill Hill Brick Street (James Rabe 2016)

A HUGE thank you to Dan Plizga for answering my questions...I feel we've really learned something here.

Interested in a tour of Rochester from 1939? That's about 20 years after the street in the story was made!

As always, if you have a comment, complaint, or concern about something I wrote here, please let me know:

Listen to James Rabe Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 11-Noon on KROC AM 1340 and 96.9 FM and Weekdays with Jessica Williams Weekday from 6 - 10 AM on Y-105 FM

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