Preserving Fourth Ward Brick Streets

It's been a source of tension in the Fourth Ward, how to improve infrastructure while preserving an historic brick street. Houston Public Radio's Capella Tucker reports Houston officials announced a plan to replace sewer lines while keeping most of the bricks intact. But some Fourth Ward residents are not convinced.

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Fourth Ward citizen Demetrius Lee takes a stroll down Cushing Street in the Fourth Ward.

"These are the homes that used to be Fourth Ward shotgun type homes which were owned by African Americans mostly, but now the new developers have come through, ran up the tax rates, brought the property out and now they developed these $300,000 homes that are being bought by the more wealthy type people and moving in and that's basically the issue that we're going through here in the Fourth Ward. And the only thing we have left is the bricks on Andrews Street. Now they say they are not going to take the bricks up, but quote me, the bricks will be gone in three years." Reporter: So now we've made it to Andrews Street, this is the center of controversy here right now. "This is the center of controversy. These are the bricks that our fore fathers laid."

The bricks on Andrews street run for about a dozen blocks. Some are partially covered in tar from previous construction projects. It's a reminder to Lee why he's doubtful about the city's new plans to update infrastructure. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee is optimistic.

"The old and the new can walk together harmoniously and stand in this community recognizing the importance of both. Today we announce that we will preserve the bricks on Andrews Street."

Jackson-Lee says an archeologist and community groups will have a say as the project is transformed from a reconstruction project that would have removed and then replaced all the bricks to a street preservation project. Public Works Mike Marcotte says they'll be using some new technology to dig along the sidewalks and then go under the road.

"Particular challenge is large old sewer that runs down the center of the street that had originally been conceived to be reconstructed essentially in place. We will now be moving to the edge of right of way and be tunneling that project. We believe by doing that we can minimize the number of bricks we have to touch, something like 5% of the total length of the bricks instead of substantially all of them."

Marcotte says there are some trade-offs.

"The street surface will not be quite as even and pretty as it would have been under the construction project, but one of the charms of brick streets is that they are to some degree uneven. So we are going to try to strike a balance here between the very important infrastructure needs providing 21st century water and sewer and drainage improvements under the street, while respecting and valuing that very important heritage."

Marcotte says they hope to have construction underway next year. Capella Tucker, Houston Public Radio News.

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