New stadium should mean quicker trips for many Braves fans

The Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionNovember 24, 2013 

Braves Stadium Baseball

The sun sets over Turner Field and a statue of Hank Aaron on Monday, Nov. 11, 2013, the day the Braves announced that they would be moving to Cobb County. (AP Photo/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Ben Gray)


Just one day remains before the Cobb County Commission vote on the proposed Braves ballpark, and questions linger about how game-goers will affect the area's already bottlenecked roads.

But a comparison of trip times to the old and new stadium locations suggests the weeknight drive to the game for the largest share of Braves fans could be the same or even better when the new stadium opens in 2017.

Cobb County officials say it will be months before they can complete a traffic study. So they don't know what impact the addition of thousands of vehicles -- nobody can say how many vehicles typically travel to a Braves game -- would have on metro Atlanta's mobility.

But the Georgia Department of Transportation does know how long it currently takes to get to the proposed stadium site, which is sandwiched between Cobb Parkway, I-285 and I-75 just outside the Perimeter. It also collects information about how long it takes to get to Turner Field now.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained exclusive information from GDOT about average trip times on several routes for the 5:30 to 6 p.m. time window on weekdays, when traffic would be the worst.

The data show that for a lot of fans, driving to the new stadium site on a weeknight could be quicker than driving to Turner Field. Particularly for motorists who live north of the city, where the heaviest concentration of Braves ticket buyers reside.

"That's actually completely shocking to me," Lee Adkins of Johns Creek said after learning how the trip times compared for him.

Adkins, who attends a few games a year, said he prefers going downtown to see the Braves, but he is open to trying the new stadium.

"I guess to me going to Cobb County for a Braves game -- I don't love it," Adkins said. "But I'm not opposed to it."

The data come with a couple of caveats. For one thing, they don't account for the time it takes to get from your driveway to the nearest interstate or from the interstate exit to the stadium. Those times aren't expected to change much for either location.

The trip times also represent the average for weeknights in 2012. That's particularly important to keep in mind when considering Turner Field trips because the 51 weeknights when the downtown stadium hosted a game last year are a fraction of all those measured.

The comparison shows:

• It takes 32 minutes of highway driving to reach Turner Field from the I-75/I-575 interchange in Cobb. It takes only 10 minutes to go from I-75/I-575 to the site of the proposed stadium.

• From Gwinnett County, it takes 40 minutes to go from I-85 at Beaver Ruin Road to Turner Field. Reaching the new stadium takes 32 minutes.

• North Fulton County residents traveling from Ga. 400 at Holcomb Bridge Road drive on average 1 hour and 6 minutes to Turner Field. It would take 39 minutes to reach the new stadium at the same time of day.

• From Midtown Atlanta, trip times are almost the same -- 12 minutes to Turner Field or 11 minutes to the new stadium location.

• Fans coming from Conyers on I-20 have to drive almost twice as long to reach the new site (44 minutes) compared with the old one (24 minutes).

• Fans coming from Stockbridge at Ga. 138 must drive 39 minutes to get to Cobb. It takes them only 18 minutes to reach Turner Field.

As the Braves' faithful approach the new stadium site, there are numerous access roads to funnel them in, Cobb DOT Director Faye DiMassimo said.

Besides I-285 and I-75, there is Cobb Parkway, Cumberland Parkway, Powers Ferry Road, Spring Hill Parkway, Spring Road, Terrell Mill Road, Windy Hill Road and Windy Ridge Parkway.

Many of those roads are already bogged down in the evening, presumably because about 76,000 people work in the Cumberland Mall area's offices and shops.

Scott Struletz, who grew up in Cobb and now lives in the Virginia-Highland neighborhood of Atlanta, wasn't surprised that travel time for Midtown-area residents is about the same for either stadium location. He said traffic near Turner Field is awful. But the tie-ups near the new site are also "terrible."

He said he'll be going to fewer games.

"The fact that I don't have the option of taking public transportation now makes it even worse," Struletz said.

About 6 percent of fans who came to games in 2013 took MARTA. Transit-dependent people would still be able to take a Cobb County Transit bus from Arts Center station in Midtown to a transfer center at Cumberland Mall.

DiMassimo said the county would seek additional funding to add more buses to that route, as well as shuttles that can ferry people from parking lots to the stadium.

From a transportation planning standpoint, it's not necessarily problematic or unusual that no traffic study was conducted before the selection of the new ballpark site, said Tim Lomax, a national congestion expert at the Texas Transportation Institute.

Looking at a map of average weeknight speeds on roads near Cumberland Mall, Lomax said they are about what he would expect to find in a big metropolitan region such as Atlanta.

"You can probably figure out the traffic," Lomax said. "But the sooner you get started, the better."

Even before the prospect of a stadium in Cobb was a twinkle in the eye of Braves President John Schuerholz, the county's transportation plan included several projects to alleviate traffic in the vicinity. They include widening lanes and overhauling interchanges on several arterial roads.

Cobb County and the Cumberland Community Improvement District have committed an additional $24 million toward transportation improvements for the new stadium that were not already budgeted. These will include a $3.5 million pedestrian bridge from the Cobb Galleria Center over I-285.

New express toll lanes to be constructed on I-75 by the spring of 2018 should help pull some traffic off the main lanes for that interstate, DiMassimo said.

There are no swift solutions to unclog I-285. The state, however, has plans to build express toll lanes along the 13.1-mile stretch from I-75 North to I-85 North some time between 2020 and 2030.

Also on the county's wish list for transportation improvements are a dedicated ramp coming from the I-75 express lanes and a bus-rapid transit system with a dedicated bus lane on Cobb Parkway.

But using technology and traffic planning to ease congestion is just as important as adding more pavement, Lomax said. Examples of that can include adding shuttle service from area parking lots, reversing lanes to go in peak directions and retiming traffic signals.

All those ideas are definitely on the table as the county looks ahead, DiMassimo said.

"Our goal," DiMassimo said, "is to make sure at the first home game in 2017 that everyone will have a successful experience, both arriving at the stadium and leaving the stadium."

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