An exceptionally heavy rain event washed out several hundred bricks on Easton Drive on June 2. It was repaired the next day. | Photo courtesy of Carol Solovitz

Lakeland’s red brick roads and crosswalks are a part of its charm. Many residents love them— including homeowners on East Belvedere Street, who petitioned to have the asphalt removed from their road to uncover the historic brick underneath.

However, recent heavy rains have dislodged bricks on a few local roads and crosswalks, creating hazards for motorists. 

In the most startling case, Lakeland resident Carol Solovitz shared a photo on social media of Easton Drive, where several hundred bricks washed out onto the southbound lane of Cleveland Heights Boulevard on June 2.

Public Works Director Heath Frederick said that was a rare occurrence due to an “extremely heavy rain event.”

“The heavy flow of water worked its way under the brick on that street, causing damage,” Frederick said. “I’ve been here seven years and I’ve never seen it happen before.”

He said the road was fixed the day after the incident was reported. The repair cost the city $5,464. 

Brick roads are generally popular with Lakelanders and they have many advantages, according to Frederick.

“They help with speed control. A lot of times that’s why residents will request them,” he said. “A lot of residents like the historical look they bring back to the road. And they help with stormwater. They are a lot more porous; the water dissipates faster.” 

After four decades hidden under asphalt, the bricks on East Belvedere Street were recently uncovered. | Cindy Glover, LkldNow

Residents of East Belvedere Street petitioned about three years ago to have the asphalt removed from their road between Lake Hollingsworth Drive and South Florida Avenue. 

It wasn’t an unusual request — the city allocates about $200,000 a year for brick restoration projects. But Frederick said the budget typically only covers one project per year, so it took a while for that one to reach the top of the list.

Work finally began on June 12 and is expected to be completed in the beginning of August. 

According to Frederick, East Belvedere was likely paved over with asphalt in the early to mid-1980s. Restoring the brick cost the city $180,000.  

“You’d be amazed how many streets have bricks under them,” Frederick said. “There are many brick streets downtown. Kentucky and Tennessee both have bricks under them.” 

Other roads that have been restored include Ingraham Avenue, Buckingham Avenue, Park Street, East Belmar Street and Nevada Road. Easton Drive was restored in 2017.

However, not all former brick roads can be returned to their original state. According to the city’s brick restoration guidelines, to be considered, a street may not have a speed limit of more than 30 miles per hour. It must be residential in nature, with fewer than 5,000 trips per day. It should have 75% of its existing brick in good condition. It also must be scheduled for milling and resurfacing in the proposed year of conversion.

If a road meets those requirements, a public meeting is scheduled to inform owners of lots fronting the street about the proposal. At least two-thirds of the property owners must signal their support. 

Frederick said the city uses its own crews to remove the asphalt and then hires a brick contractor to replace or repair broken bricks underneath. Sometimes, the brick contractor also has to adjust the base of the road underneath the bricks. 

“We can’t do every street that has brick in the city. We have to prioritize them and see if we have available funding,” Frederick said, adding that the restoration projects are completed on a first-come, first-served basis. 

But overall, he said brick roads benefit the city, as they cut down on the city’s maintenance costs. 

A crosswalk on West Lake Parker Drive was patched with asphalt temporarily, until a contractor can replace the bricks. | Cindy Glover, LkldNow

“The bricks substantially cut down on maintenance costs compared to regular asphalt. Brick roads last 50 years compared to asphalt roads where in seven years, we have to do an initial treatment to extend the life of the road,” Frederick said. “We’d like to see more roads restored to brick. It helps with our budget.”

Not all missing bricks are weather-related.

A crosswalk on West Lake Parker Drive is missing some bricks, but Frederick said that was due to crews removing them to repair a water line. He said the area where the bricks were missing was filled with asphalt temporarily, until the brick contractor could return to replace the bricks. 

“It will be fixed soon,” Frederick said. 

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Stephanie Claytor has been a broadcast and digital journalist in Lakeland since 2016, covering Polk County for Bay News 9 and currently free-lancing for LkldNow. She is an author of travel and children's books.

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