A contractor working for the City of Pensacola failed to notify city officials upon discovery of a historic brick street in downtown Pensacola and continued asphalt resurfacing operations in defiance of city law.
On Monday, it was discovered that Midsouth Paving contractors, working for the city in its ongoing $30 million resurfacing project, had violated city law during work to resurface North Hayne Street near the Pensacola Police Department headquarters.
The city’s established policies call for the preservation of streets paved with brick that have been previously covered with asphalt, such as North Hayne Street. Many of the city’s downtown streets are paved with century-old brick and timber blocks underneath newer layers of asphalt.
A city official said Tuesday that they were unaware that contractors had discovered the brick beneath asphalt on the historic street and have ordered all work to stop at the site.
“It appears the city wasn’t notified there was brick under there,” City of Pensacola spokesman Vernon Stewart said. “We have asked the contractor to cordon off the area to any further work and move on to the next scheduled street.”
It’s unknown if the contractor deliberately violated city law, as they continued resurfacing work on the brick street for more than a block after the bricks were first discovered, damaging the historic bricks during milling work. Midsouth did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The massive resurfacing project around the city’s downtown core has been ongoing for several months, spanning from the city limits along Bayou Chico to Old East Hill and the Seville historic district and involving 119 miles of city streets.
According to Resolution 05-16 passed by the Pensacola City Council in 2016, upon discovery of historical elements beneath city streets, such as brick blocks, they “should be maintained or brought back to their original form.”
“If any historic paving elements are discovered, the contractor will document it and report the location to the city transportation engineer,” Stewart said in June prior to resurfacing work beginning in Pensacola’s Long Hollow and Eastside neighborhoods. “The milled surface will then be secured and the resurfacing crew will proceed to the next street on the list. The City will then implement the provisions of Resolution 05-16.”
Stewart said during the project’s planning stages, known brick streets were deliberately not included within the city’s resurfacing plans but acknowledged the city did not have a complete inventory of brick streets and that some streets scheduled to undergo resurfacing were suspected to be brick.
“Before the current program started care was taken by the public works department to not include any streets that were known or suspected to have historic paving elements,” said Stewart.
In recognizing the value of brick streets, the city has previously stated that preserving brick streets is preferred over asphalt resurfacing. The most recent effort to restore some of the city’s brick streets was in 2002, when two blocks along both Barcelona and West Gadsden streets were restored to brick at a cost of $2,000 per block, which was actually $1,000 less than resurfacing the same block with asphalt. To lower the costs of reconstructing the street, the city advocated for the use of road prison crews to perform the labor.
Throughout the United States, brick streets typically have an average lifespan of more than 50 years, while asphalt streets must be replaced more frequently.
“The cost to redo historical [streets] is traditionally twice to three times the cost to pave it,” Stewart said in June.
A 2006 study advocating for brick paving said, “While the initial cost to repair a brick street today can be high in comparison to asphalt or concrete streets, they require very little maintenance, they never get potholes, and they can be expected to last 50 to 100 years.”
In Pensacola, there are brick streets in use that are more than 100 years old. The average asphalt street in Pensacola lasts just 15 years, city officials said.
This story will be updated.