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Rīga's historic cobblestone streets might be doomed

A few years ago, LSM reported on cases of cobblestone collapsing on the central Rīga Ģertrūdes Street. The street was under construction for a long time. It turns out that the works have long been finished but the street section is not in commission yet due to a number of pitfalls, Latvian Television's 4. studija reported April 18.

As reported by LSM numerous times, in 2020, Ģertrūdes Street became known for having an appetite for consuming vehicles, gobbling up three innocent cars.

LTV met with researcher Aivars Treicis, who has written a book about Rīga's historic cobblestone. LTV and Treicis went to look at Ģertrūdes Street, upon which Treicis let out a sigh and said:

"The whole principle is wrong. This has been made by people who don't know how to lay cobble."

Stones have fallen out, seams are wide and uneven.

Andrejs Urtāns, Head of the Traffic Infrastructure administration of the Riga City Council Department for Outdoors and Mobility, said that the works on Ģertrūdes Street were completed in 2023, but the street was not put into operation because defects were detected, for which an act was drawn up and claims were made against the contractor. 

The works in Ģertrūdes Street were carried out by SIA ReRe Vide. The contractual penalty has been applied and the Department will withhold an amount equal to 10% of the total cost of the works. A call for tenders has been launched to remedy the defects found. 

"The amount we have planned should be sufficient, but the question is what amount will be offered by the external specialists who will apply for the tender," Urtāns said.  

Researcher Treicis said: "If decisions are made by those who don't understand anything about the specifics... Yes, it's a niche of roadbuilding, but we have these stone streets and we must know how to preserve them."

Krišjāņa Barona Street also had to be recobbled several times before it was finally put into operation in 2018, three years after the repairs started.    

But here's how the researcher assesses the situation a few years later: "Unfortunately, stone works differently with mortar; there are different coefficients of expansion, and over time the mortar bounces off the stone. In Krišjāņa Barona Street, it is typical throughout the whole stretch that the stones gradually start to fall out and disappear." 

According to Treicis, quality cobblestone should serve at least 20 years without significant repair. Now Krišjāņa Barona Street cobblestone will have to be repaired just six years later with street maintenance budget.

"4. studija" has previously reported on the questionable quality of the ongoing renovation works on Vienības Avenue as well. After sewer repairs, the cobblestone has been put back rather haphazardly. The municipality has reacted to this information. 

"We would like to address Riga Water with a comment and a request to reinforce the quality control at this site," Urtāns said. "Of course, once the works are completed, the department will issue an opinion as to whether the works have been carried out in accordance with the requirements set by the department."

Treicis, on the other hand, believes that the construction supervisors of both Ģertrūdes Street and Vienības Avenue should be held responsible for paving such streets:

"They should be stripped of their certificate for being incompetent in their field, and the next step is the contracting authority and the competence of the contracting authority."

To control the construction work, the Department outsources certified construction supervisors to monitor the work on site and control how the work is carried out and how the paving is laid.

"We are also currently working to update the technical specifications that directly relate to the paving of the historic pavement," Urtāns said. 

Asked whether, if historic cobbled streets are repaired the way it happens now, sooner or later it will come down to replacing it with asphalt, Treicis said: "Little by little, we are getting there. Because if we don't learn how to preserve cobblestone, then it will die in itself." 

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