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Missoula’s red brick road

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Originally, the heart of downtown—Higgins Ave. and two to four blocks on either side—was paved with brick. Now, a two-block stretch along Railroad St. is one of the few remaining stretches of brick-covered public right-of-way. According to the Missoula Historic Preservation Commission, this bumpy little strip of uneven bricks and patched potholes represents less than 5 percent of the original brick street paving.

Although quaint, the bricks are unduly jolting to shock absorbers, and the city has decided it’s time to time to smooth things over.

“The ride quality is real poor,” says Doug Harby, construction project manager with the city engineer’s office. Some parts of the foundation are sinking, he says, which contribute to the uneven surface. “The road is shot as a city street.”

Last year, the Historic Preservation Commission proposed cleaning the bricks and maintaining the historical integrity of the old road. The Missoula Redevelopment Agency granted $52,000 toward the project. Then, the preservation commission director left on sabbatical. More recently, the interim director unexpectedly departed for personal reasons. And so the brick road project has landed on Cindy Wulfekuhle’s lap, at the Office of Planning and Grants. Now, it’s her job to get a brick-cleaning plan approved by the engineer by June 1 in order to keep the MRA grant.

What’ll it take to complete the project? Wulfekuhle and Harby imagine it’ll take some attention from volunteers with stiff brushes, water buckets and chipping mallets.

If the MRA funds expire, says Harby, the city has just enough money to tear out the bricks and pave. The work must be completed by the end of this construction season, says Wulfekuhle.

Business owners along the strip have expressed support for keeping the brick road.

In fact, Morrison Maierle, Inc., along the west edge of the road, offered complementary engineering consulting. Keith Belden manages the office, and he says the engineering firm has offered to draw up plan sheets—like blueprints—and test foundation soils. Says Belden: “We may even get out there and help shuffle bricks around.”

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