Cobb County Department of Transportation
On its wish list for a share of the nearly $1 billion in state money that legislators recently authorized to fund much-needed highway maintenance, Cobb County is asking for $9 million to build a bridge over I-285 to take Braves fans to and from the team’s new stadium, $3.5 million in state funds to retrofit a parking deck at the nearby Galleria Office Park to accommodate Braves shuttle buses, and millions of dollars for other transportation projects.
According to documents obtained through an open records request, Cobb Department of Transportation Director Faye DiMassimo last month requested $101.1 million for 17 different projects throughout the county that she said are particularly “well suited” to receive state funds from the Georgia Department of Transportation. The money would potentially come from the landmark transportation-funding bill passed by state lawmakers and signed by Gov. Nathan Deal this year that raised Georgia’s gas tax to generate nearly $1 billion to fix deteriorating roads and repair crumbling bridges.
The Cobb list includes several multi-million-dollar projects designed to relieve congestion along interstates 75 and 285—as well as local streets—near SunTrust Park, the Braves’ new $672 million stadium, which is expected to bring 25,000 cars to the area during sold-out games. Two “road diet” projects, estimated to cost the state north of $11 million, would respectively improve pedestrian connectivity along Windy Ridge and Interstate North parkways just to the east of the planned stadium. Cobb is also asking for $5 million to erect new highway message boards, which would play a key role in directing commuters to avoid traffic delays on game days. (Not every item is Braves-related: The list also includes projects like a $12 million pathway near Kennesaw Mountain and a $4.5 million multi-use trail near Kennesaw State University).
GDOT Planning Director Jay Roberts, a former Republican state representative from Ocilla, who last spring resigned from the General Assembly to take the state agency gig after guiding the transportation bill toward the governor’s desk, couldn’t be reached for comment. According to GDOT spokeswoman Natalie Dale, the state department has reviewed Cobb’s project list with the same scrutiny given to requests from the other 158 counties. Dale said she was unauthorized to say which items would receive state funding.
“The project list has been vetted to determine for which projects GDOT is willing to provide funding commitments,” says Dale, who did not say when GDOT would make a decision on the funding request. “Projects not in line with GDOT’s commitment to mobility, congestion relief and safety within the corridor will not be eligible for funding commitments.”
The so-called “Braves bridge”—to be used both by pedestrians and shuttle buses—was originally proposed as a Cobb-funded project, but has been delayed amid debate over its actual cost. Critics, pointing to MARTA’s $32 million pedestrian-only bridge that spans Georgia 400, say the $9 million price tag touted by county officials won’t be enough. According to the project list, Cobb DOT officials would like to see the bridge finished in September 2017—months after the first pitch will be thrown at SunTrust Park.
Regardless of where the funding originates, Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee, who did not respond to multiple requests for comment, has fiercely defended the stadium-area projects—particularly the 1,100-foot bridge—as essential. In late July, Cobb commissioners voted 4-0 to pay a firm $800,000 to design the bridge and nail down the final cost of the project sometime this fall. With the clock ticking until Opening Day 2017, Lee and other officials appear to be pulling out all the stops toward making the Braves—and their fans—as welcome as possible in their new digs.
Update 9/3/15: Well, as it turns out, Cobb County didn’t get everything from the state they asked for to spruce up the area near the Braves’ new home. Of Cobb’s $101 million in funding requests, the Marietta Daily Journal reports, GDOT signed off on $42 million for projects to help address congestion. More than half of that cash—including $9.2 million for “road diet” projects making walking more manageable, $5 million for variable message boards to direct motorists away from gridlock on gamedays, and $4.7 million to overhaul the intersection of Cobb Parkway and I-285—will directly impact the area near the stadium.
What didn’t get funding? Cobb’s efforts to get $9 million for the bridge providing bus and pedestrian access over I-285 to SunTrust Park, or $3.5 million to retrofit a Cobb Galleria parking deck. “It’s not a high-profile state project,” Lee today told the paper. “We were never really depending on them.” But it didn’t hurt to ask either.