BROOKSVILLE — Built during an era when horse-drawn carriages rolled down Howell Avenue in downtown Brooksville, the section of sidewalk stretching north about four blocks from Fort Dade Avenue to the First Baptist Church has been showing its age for the past few decades.
Invading tree roots and settling soil have caused concrete sections along the east side of the road to twist and buckle, increasing the danger of someone falling into the busy roadway.
While the sidewalk and its safety issues have been in city officials' sights for years, community development director Bill Geiger said the municipality lacked money to pay for improvements. But now, thanks to a $436,000 grant from the state Department of Transportation, the heavily used walkway will be getting a complete overhaul.
City officials have invited the public to a workshop on Tuesday evening to view preliminary designs and to provide input on the project, which is expected to begin sometime next year.
"Because it's in a historic section, we want nearby property owners and everyone in the community to give us an idea as to what they would like to see there," said Geiger, who added that the project is consistent with the community's goal of being walkable and pedestrian friendly.
Howell Avenue and its surrounding side streets are home to some of the city's oldest dwellings, many of which predate the invention of the automobile. The existing 4-foot-wide sidewalk is bordered in places by lime rock retaining walls, and it sits nearly 1 1/2 feet above the elevation of the roadway. Geiger said the original design most likely was adopted to accommodate the height of high-riding carriages of the day. The elevated portions lacked handrails, and that, Geiger said, has always concerned city officials.
"Back then, there wasn't the safety consciousness that we have today," he said.
Renderings for the project, which is being designed by Coastal Engineering Associates, show a wider sidewalk that is built to comply with standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act. New retaining walls will provide structural support, as well as aesthetic appeal, Geiger said.