Historic Bricks That Can Revitalize Tampa Streets

The key to highlighting Tampa’s history while creating safer streets for residents and visitors lay just below the surface of many of the city’s thoroughfares: thousands of clay bricks that were used to pave Tampa’s roads nearly a century ago. GAI civil engineer Christina Newcomb, PE is part of a multidiscipline GAI team tasked with locating the whereabouts of these hidden bricks so they can be reclaimed for use in a Tampa street-revitalization program.

“The streets of Tampa contain a significant number of bricks manufactured by the Georgia Vitrified Brick and Clay Company marked ‘Augusta Block,’ which were put in place in the 1920s,” said Newcomb, who specializes in transportation engineering and design services at GAI. “Some of the bricks are exposed, but there is quite a large portion of the bricks that have been paved over with asphalt.”

In the 1950s and 1960s, paving (and paving over) roadways with asphalt was embraced to facilitate Tampa’s rapid growth and the city’s desire to accommodate increased automobile traffic. Presently, on certain roads, segments of Augusta Block bricks can be seen on streets where the decades-old asphalt has become worn over time.

tampa bricks

The Building Blocks of Street Enhancement

Identifying the location of the historic bricks is one step in an incremental program that seeks to preserve the city’s history, calm traffic, increase safety, and provide streetscape improvements that can potentially contribute to Tampa’s economic development. The Augusta Block bricks may be used in current roadway maintenance as well as for future projects.

“There are basically two perspectives on this part of the program,” said Newcomb. “While using the vitrified brick that we identify can enhance the historical look that the City of Tampa is going for, the brick is a natural traffic-calming material that supports the nation-wide movement toward creating safer shared-use streets.”

Multidiscipline GAI Team Follows Clues & Maps the Discoveries

“A unique consideration of this project was the need to formulate a program of how to identify likely locations of brick underneath the asphalt,” said Newcomb. The team defined certain visual indicators that suggested the possible whereabouts of the Augusta Block vitrified clay bricks. “While the brick or its outlines can sometimes be seen through worn or cracked asphalt, key indicators of paved-over bricks include 24-foot-wide roadways and granite curbing, which were typical of the time when the bricks were originally put in place.”

Geographic Information System (GIS) maps configured by GAI’s Community Solutions Group (CSG) plotted out the likely locations of the Augusta Block brick and were used to guide GAI civil engineers performing surveys in the field. A user-friendly GIS database of confirmed brick locations took form based on information gathered during the civil engineers’ visual inspections. Additionally, street sections where bricks were likely to be but could not be confirmed through visual inspection were categorized on the GIS map as targeted for future geotechnical core sampling.

Providing Expertise Now and in the Future

Looking beyond identifying the locations of Augusta Block brick, GAI is also assisting Tampa with prioritizing streets proposed for reconstruction using the historic bricks through the development of a Priority Matrix. The Priority Matrix draws upon City of Tampa historical data, comparable data from other cities, economic analysis, and public involvement to provide a characterization of the roadways that could stand to benefit most from reconstruction utilizing the rare historic bricks.

“There is a lot that is unique about this project, and it has given GAI the opportunity to develop a distinctive expertise in historic brick initiatives that we can apply to future projects for Tampa and other cities throughout the U.S.,” said Newcomb.

Contact Christina Newcomb at 813.605.7078 and find out more about GAI’s transportation engineering and design services and get to know GAI’s Community Solutions Groupmessage GAI online  and start the conversation about how our multidiscipline professionals can meet your unique project needs.

Christina NewcombChristina Newcomb, PE is a Project Manager and Engineer-of-Record specializing in the design of transportation facilities, pavement design of roadways, and traffic mitigation projects. Christina’s transportation projects range from large scale limited access facilities with complex maintenance of traffic (MOT) requirements to small local complete street and road diet programs. She is also quickly becoming a go-to engineer on historical brick pavement design.

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