Work starts the week of June 25 to improve pedestrian safety and handicap accessibility in Downtown Athens.
In 2015, the City of Athens received approval for the project from the Transportation Alternatives Program through the Alabama Department of Transportation. The project has gone through the design and bidding process. Premiere Structures received the bid at $440,156. TAP will refund the city 80 percent of the project cost.
“This is a project the city tackled before the federal government stepped in to tell us that our pedestrian areas around The Square need to meet current handicap accessibility requirements,” Athens Mayor Ronnie Marks said. “This project also addresses a safety issue where pedestrians are crossing to and from the merchant side and courthouse side through oncoming traffic with no signalization.”
The project includes signalized corner crossings to and from the Courthouse, removing the middle crosswalks that are in oncoming traffic, making sidewalks wheelchair accessible, and installing energy efficient lighting. Athens-Limestone Tourism and Athens Rotary have supported the project with donations of $15,000 each toward the city’s funding match. Athens Main Street has donated $10,000 and plans to donate an additional $5,000.
Morell Engineering and Premiere Structures are coordinating with the Mayor’s Office to help keep the public and merchants aware of the project’s progress. The Mayor’s Office is visiting with merchants this week to deliver information cards so employees and shoppers have access to the project’s purpose and timeline.
The contractor will erect construction signs on Tuesday, June 19. Premiere will start work on the Marion Street side on Monday, June 25. Weather permitting, the project’s completion date will be Oct. 1. Marion Street is the first phase. The next phase will be Market Street, then Washington Street, and the last phase Jefferson Street.
Contractors will not block storefronts. There will be safety fencing around work zones, and store patrons need to stay out of work areas. Workers will not block streets unless they encounter unforeseen obstacles, such as issues with buried utilities. If crews have to block a lane or entire street, the contractor will notify the Mayor’s Office. Updates on lane or street closures will be issued through Nixle alerts and the city’s social media sites: City of Athens, Alabama (Public Relations) on Facebook, @AthensAL on Twitter, and the city’s website. To sign up for Nixle alerts, go to https://local.nixle.com/register/ and choose to follow City of Athens and Utilities.
Athens Police Chief Floyd Johnson asks motorists to use caution in the downtown area while the project is underway.
“Motorists need to slow down and pay attention to crews working on The Square and pedestrians walking around work zones,” Athens Police Chief Floyd Johnson said.
Water/Wastewater Manager Frank Eskridge said his crews are coordinating with Premiere’s crews so the Water Department can replace the water mains on The Square. Eskridge said the water mains are a type of cast iron no longer in use. The Water Department crews will work from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. in order to minimize traffic and convenience impacts.
The City will resurface The Square after the street cuts settle and the entire project is complete.