Moderated by Tom Sabulis
The Atlanta Braves’ decision to relocate to a new stadium in Cobb County for the 2017 baseball season has prompted a barrage of opinions about fixing transportation to the new site at I-75 and I-285. Today, we hear about possible solutions incorporating mass transit and new roads. We also hear from a former county commission chairman who wonders where we will find the money to fund the projects.
There are three columns today. Commenting is open.
By David Emory
Throughout metro Atlanta, the Braves’ announcement that they are moving from Turner Field to a new stadium in Cobb County has generated a wide variety of reactions. But whether you support the move or not, everyone agrees the proposed location, at the traffic-choked intersection of I-75 and I-285, presents a major transportation challenge.
The good news is that the move also presents an opportunity to advance a conversation of critical importance to Cobb’s future: expanding mass transit.
That conversation is playing out against the backdrop of rapidly shifting perspectives about transit in the region. A recent poll by the Atlanta Regional Commission found 71 percent of area residents think improved transit is “very important” to the region’s future, and more respondents now favor transit expansion than any other traffic-relief strategy, including more roads.
Fortunately, several major transit investments for Cobb are already in planning. One is the proposed Cobb Parkway bus rapid transit (BRT) line from Kennesaw to Cumberland. Not your average city bus, the service would have its own lanes and fixed stations like rail transit. And its Cobb Parkway alignment, which would deliver Braves fans right to the stadium’s doorstep, could change the transportation dynamic for the new stadium and Cobb as a whole.
In addition to transit improvements within the county, Cobb also needs strengthened connections to the rest of the region, including Atlanta. This is where expansion of our rail network has a role to play. Over the years, various ideas for light rail connections have been floated, including potential links from Cumberland to central Atlanta and from Cumberland to Perimeter along the I-285 top end. Both concepts would complement the Cobb Parkway BRT proposal and are worthy of further consideration.
But regardless which corridor or technology is pursued first, a necessary first step will be identifying a funding source that can pay for these long-term investments. Thankfully, such a source is available to Cobb today: the MARTA Act. Cobb is one of three counties, along with Clayton and Gwinnett, authorized to join MARTA under existing law. Joining MARTA would give Cobb the capacity to make the major transit investment it needs, and it could be put to a vote during any general election year.
Some have pointed to Cobb’s original rejection of MARTA in the 1960s as a sign transit is not wanted in the county. But the Cobb County of today is a vastly different place from the county that voted down MARTA nearly 50 years ago. It is far more diverse. It is rapidly urbanizing. And like the larger Atlanta region depicted in the ARC poll, it has a growing population of residents who are demanding alternatives to being stuck in their cars.
By landing the Braves, Cobb is signaling it is ready to be a big-league place — which means having a big-league transit system. It is time to advance the conversation about serious rail and bus investment in Cobb County.
David Emory is president of Citizens for Progressive Transit.
By Dave Henson
Cobb County leaders have proclaimed that a number of transportation projects already “in the queue” will increase accessibility to the proposed Braves stadium before its first pitch in 2017.
However, the centerpiece roadway project will serve only as an express bypass of the area, while another innovative plan that could actually enhance site access is not in play. Let’s see if transportation officials can handle the curve.
The Northwest Corridor project — GDOT’s $840 million crown jewel — will add two optional, variable-rate toll lanes along the west side of I-75 from I-285 to I-575, then split into two separate, single toll lanes within the medians of I-75 and I-575 to points northward. The lanes will be reversible, carrying southbound traffic during the morning commute and northbound traffic during the afternoon/evening commute.
The Braves stadium will be near I-285 at the southern end of the project, meaning the express toll lanes will be useless to northbound drivers trying to access the site. On weekdays, most games will begin in the evening, during the late-day commute. Therefore, the reversible lanes will be open to northbound traffic and unavailable to folks who have to drive south to get to the stadium — in other words, everyone in the northwest corridor.
For weekend, holiday and early afternoon games, the reversible toll lanes will likely be open for southbound traffic and in high demand. However, the last toll lane exit ramp north of the stadium will be onto Terrell Mill Road, which lacks connectivity to the south. As a result, Terrell Mill will be clogged with cars crawling toward Cobb Parkway and Powers Ferry Road and zigzagging through the North X Northwest office park to get to the stadium. Fortunately, there is a solution in the playbook.
Several years ago, the Cumberland Community Improvement District — the area’s self-taxing coalition of commercial property owners — hatched a plan to build a four-lane, median-divided connector between Terrell Mill and Windy Hill roads. The most logical route extends Leland Drive — a small dead-end road off of Windy Hill — north to Terrell Mill. Thus, the project became known as the Leland Drive Extension.
Last year, Cobb officials included the one-mile, $14 million connector in the regional T-SPLOST plan, but since the referendum’s failure, they have yet to identify another source of funding. I believe it’s time to take another swing at it.
If the Leland Drive Extension is completed — preferably before the express toll lanes open in 2018 — signage on Terrell Mill could direct game-day traffic to the newly connected Leland Drive, then across Windy Hill to a realigned Interstate North Parkway West: a straight shot down to the stadium.
Cobb County hit a home run by scoring the Braves, but reliable accessibility to the new stadium will be the true measure of its success. Building the Leland Drive Extension would help.
Dave Henson, a Woodstock resident, is founder and director of Georgia Policy Solutions.
By Bill Byrne
The Atlanta Braves have announced they are moving to Cobb County for the 2017 season. Great news, or is it?
Five major questions have not been asked that need answers. The answers will define the quality of life for Cobb’s residents after 2017. The questions are all infrastructure-related:
1. It is startling that Gov. Nathan Deal was never consulted on this move until the very last day. State transportation planners will likely be asked to fund improvements around the site, and the governor responded: “I have no indication that I’ll be putting any infrastructure funds in my budget. I do not see this as something that the taxpayers of this state will be asked to pay for.” The state DOT already has plans, in a public-private agreement, to build new lanes along I-75 that actually bypass Cobb County. Where will the money for the infrastructure come from?
2. It has been reported that Cobb County will pay 45 percent of the proposed $672 million stadium complex cost. Where will the money for infrastructure come from?
3. Mayor Kasim Reed stated: “Because of the transportation issues, Cobb is going to have to have rail, which would be the first introduction of light rail.” Cobb Chairman Tim Lee responded: “We’re going to use bus rapid transit; it will be BRT.” The BRT proposal would cost approximately $1.1 billion, as the recent Northwest Corridor Alternatives Study recommends. Where will the $1.1 billion come from to finance this program?
4. Marietta voters recently approved a $68 million project to improve the Franklin Road corridor. The city plans to demolish this area and look to the private sector for redevelopment. With the Braves coming, this site will develop as mixed use, including hotels, motels and commercial development. Has anyone determined how the new traffic will impact Cobb Parkway (U.S. 41) and I-75 between Ga. 120 and Windy Hill Road? Where will the money for infrastructure come from?
5. Once the new Braves stadium is built and the infrastructure is completed, what will be the impact on Cobb’s budget for additional public safety personnel to protect the new region, and how will the maintenance of the massive new infrastructure affect Cobb residents’ property taxes?
Do we now know why the Metro Atlanta Chamber, Cobb Chamber of Commerce, Atlanta Regional Commission, Cumberland Improvement District and Tim Lee were such strong supporters of rail from Atlanta to Cumberland Mall and Town Center in the 2012 T-SPLOST proposal? That proposal failed in Cobb County by a 61- to 39-percent vote.
How will this proposal be viewed when these questions are answered?
Bill Byrne is former chairman of the Cobb County Commission.