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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Historic Desecration or Necessary Infrastructure Update?

As regular readers of WildmooBooks know, Willa Cather is my favorite author. I'm a card-carrying-member of the Willa Cather Foundation* and I have a Google alert set up for her name so that I can keep up-to-date on Cather news as it happens.

A news story arrived in my in-box today that the Nebraska Department of Roads wants to pave-over the historic red brick roads of Red Cloud with concrete. 

There are some smooth, groved "dips" in these brick roads (I was just there in March), but I've seen deeper dips or even hazardous, lumpy historic roads that are much, much worse. We've all probably seen deeper dips in roads that are much, much newer (albeit, usually with much, much heavier traffic). I understand that responsible state planners have to try to stay in-front of the curve when it comes to infrastructure maintenance, but in this case I wonder whether the scale should tip toward historic preservation rather than infrastructure enhancement. And perhaps it makes me sound cynical, but I also can't help but wonder who will benefit economically from the project.


Historic, literary tourism is one of the main attractions of Red Cloud, so to take away such an integral part of the historic ambiance would seem to have a potentially negative impact on the economic vitality of the town. 

Looks beautiful to me

Below is the text of the news article and you can click here to watch the video.

"Historic red brick roads in Red Cloud could be paved over"

By Rachel Lake

From the Willa Cather Foundation to historic downtown, visiting Red Cloud is like stepping back in time.
But could infrastructure improvements threaten the historical ambiance?

At a Red Cloud council meeting last week, Nebraska Department of Roads proposed a plan that would replace downtown's brick roads with concrete. A plan many merchants and residents call a bad idea.
 
You can pass through Red Cloud in the blink of an eye, but if you decide to stop and take a look around, you'll notice historic downtown with its streetlamps, awning and red brick streets.

It's part of the heritage of Red Cloud.

Editor and Manager of The Red Cloud Chief Harriett Zade couldn't agree more.

"I can't imagine Red Cloud without the brick streets," she said. This is something I grew up with and this is part of our history."

But, Nebraska Department of Roads can.

Built in 1917, Webster Street used to support horse and buggy. Almost 100 years later, it now supports large semis and farm equipment as part of Highway 281.

"It's kind of sad there's no alternative way so the big trucks don't have to go through because I know that does take a toll on the road," said resident Candy Bell.

The NDOR wants to replace the bricks with concrete.

"I think they should leave them alone, it's historical," said Kim Shannon, Red Cloud resident. "It goes with our buildings and truly how long do these highways last. These have been here for 80 years you go down the highways they deteriorate after six or seven years.

Zade adds, "You can go to the city and see cement streets and I think in a rural area it's really unique to come to a small town and see the original brick streets that were in the past."

But some wonder how much longer these streets will last.

The Department of Roads plan would be implemented in 2017.

City council stresses nothing is set in stone. But, committee has been formed to come up with an alternative to the plan.

###


Call me a romantic, but when my tires hit brick roads, I get all tingly inside. It's almost like a magical transformation back into time.

*They don't really give you a membership card, but if you're a fan of Willa Cather, I encourage you to become a member and support the cause.

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