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Work underway to make Athens’s 200-year old square safer and more accessible

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ATHENS, Ala. -- "The Square" in downtown Athens is getting a makeover, and it's not just for looks. Athens plans to make it more accessible and safer to all in the community.

"The Square" in Athens has been around for hundreds of years.

"Our square was designed in the 1800s with wide streets to accommodate horse and buggy and wagons, and we never had signalized crossing to and from the courthouse," explained Holly Hollman, Grant Coordinator Communications Specialist for Athens.

The lack of crosswalks has forced people to cross through traffic to get to the courthouse.

"We did have a gentleman one year during our storytelling festival that did get hit trying to cross the street, because there's nothing to stop traffic for the pedestrians," Hollman said.

Athens is updating their square to make it safer and more handicap accessible. They are making the sidewalks more handicap accessible, adding handicap parking, and have improved the lighting to make it safer for the restaurants, events, and retail at night.

"We are removing those middle crossing lanes, and we are centering everything to the corners where there will be stop signs and pedestrians will have the right of way, and traffic will stop for them to go back and forth from the courthouse," Hollman added.

They started the project last summer but stopped during the holiday season to not be in the way of shopping and events. Now, work is back underway and they hope to have it completed by April. They will also put in new trees and improve the electrical system for vendors and bands to use during events.

"We wanted to make it as user-friendly as possible for pedestrians and of course, people of all abilities," Hollman said.

The project costs a little over $350,000. The city received a grant through the transportation alternatives program for most of it. The city paid for 20 percent, which groups such as Athens Rotary, Athens-Limestone County Tourism and Athens Main Street donated towards the project.

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