Athens wins TDEC award

17 May 2016

Environmentally conscious infrastructure continues to be a trademark for the City of Athens.
On Friday, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), in partnership with the Tennessee Department of Transportation, announced the winners of the 2016 Sustainable Transportation Awards. These awards recognize initiatives throughout the state that reduce emissions and conserve transportation-related energy coupled with efforts to save natural resources, improve citizen health and become more efficient in service delivery.
"Sustainable transportation is essential for public health and the environment and we're encouraged by the efforts of communities and industry across the state to make it a priority in transportation planning," said TDEC Commissioner Bob Martineau. "By recognizing thought leaders in this field, we hope to inspire replication of innovative projects, activities and initiatives across the state."
Athens was one of 10 entities, both public and private, selected by a panel of judges to receive the award for its Green Ways Initiative, which began in 2013.
"When we started this program, we didn't think about getting an award," said Athens Public Works Director Shawn Lindsey. "We're just trying to get people to be multi-modal."
Basically, the term "multi-modal" describes all different forms of transportation. Development of more varied and cleaner transportation options for Athens residents was largely the basis for this award.
"It's very gratifying for others to look at your work and recognize what it's done for your community," said Athens Parks & Recreation Director Austin Fesmire. "I think what it shows is the leadership and innovations that Athens provides throughout the state. We've done a lot of things first and we work together very well as departments to get things done."
Since the Green Ways Initiative began, Athens has increased the total city sidewalk and walkway length by 2 percent each year. Several of the walkways are surfaced with pervious (allowing water to pass through) pavers over top of detention ponds.
Athens repairs its roads with a method that is more environmentally friendly than traditional methods. Liquid Road paving is calculated to save more than 97,000 pounds of carbon dioxide for every mile of a four-lane road that is treated. Athens treated eight miles of road last year.
"Even when dollars were shrinking after the recession, we wanted to maintain what we have," said Lindsey. "We looked for alternatives to paving to do the smartest job possible. Paving is now our last resort; we try to catch these roads before they need to be paved."
The addition and renovation of city sidewalks been a large scale project for several years, as well.
"We've done over six miles and we've got another three miles to come this year," said Lindsey.
The city has also added nine miles of new recreational trails in the last three years, including the Eureka Trail, Eagle Trail, Wetlands and DENSO EcoPark.
"A healthier population equals a healthier workforce," said Lindsey.
The Athens trails are open to walkers, horseback riders and bikers. The city is working with engineering students at the University of Tennessee to develop an Urban Trail System to increase accessibility and incorporate other landmarks into the trail system.
"If we can get one person off the couch, the health benefit to that one is worth the efforts we've gone through," said Fesmire. "We've basically saved a life at that point."