brick streets: charm vs. cost


Brick streets add charm to our historic community; however, brick streets also are expensive to reconstruct, are noisy when they carry a high volume of traffic and can be dangerous when steep and slippery.  Traditional wisdom has been that brick streets cost up to three times as much but last three times as long as asphalt—and that is true of our original brick streets that were constructed during the first half of the 20th century. But that may no longer be true.

Although new kinds of brick and new methodology are evolving, the  sub-contractors who work on our brick streets currently have trouble finding high quality brick, says Public Works Director Rudy Sukal.

Sukal is part of a committee working on a policy to provide brick street guidelines for the commission to consider when allocating funding annually for street reconstruction and repair.  Assistant Manager Ian McMeans is heading up the committee, which also includes Matt Bagaley of Gateway Engineers, Yvette Yescas of the historic preservation board and Public Information Officer Susan Morgans, who serves as municipal liaison to the historic preservation board. The goal of the committee is to identify brick streets that Mt. Lebanon should try to preserve. They plan to make a progress report to the Commission late this month.

Some of Mt. Lebanon’s brick streets are in better condition than others, although looking at the surface does not truly tell the tale. 

Over the years, use, weather, poor drainage and other conditions can cause the base beneath the brick to deteriorate, creating an uneven surface for travel.  Most of our brick streets are in need of attention, if not now, sometime in the next few years.  Currently only $50,000 a year is budgeted for brick street repair and reconstruction, an amount that does not allow for much preservation of streets many people view as a community asset.

One of the things that is shaping the policy is a prioritization plan for brick streets that PennDOT was required to prepare as “mitigation” when Castle Shannon Boulevard, a state-owned road that is in our National Register District, was changed from brick to asphalt primarily for safety reasons—the road carries about 5,000 cars per day.  The historic preservation board participated in discussions regarding the possibility of saving Castle Shannon’s brick surface but ultimately agreed that asphalt would be a safer surface for a busy state road.

PennDOTs brick street restoration plan evaluated all brick streets in Mt. Lebanon and placed them into four categories based on their condition, with categories one and two deemed likely worth preserving, category three worth considering and category four not recommended. The PennDOT plan is based more on engineering and safety concerns, but it does recommend that individual streets be considered in the context of their aesthetic and historic value to the neighborhood.

This month, the historic preservation board will be revisiting the PennDOT plan, taking a tour of the brick streets and working to devise a list of brick streets that are historic assets valued not only by property owners with frontage on the streets but also by the community at large. With a better understanding of the conditions, safety aspects and historic value of individual streets, the board hopes to be able to work with public works and the commission to see that important  brick streets are preserved in as cost-effective a way as possible.