In the autumn of 2013 a story literally blindsided the press and public. The Atlanta Braves were moving to Cobb County. More specifically they were locating at the epicenter of Northside Atlanta traffic— the critical juncture where I-75 and I-285 “meet and greet” motorists commuting to and from work and intermingling with travelers desperately trying to weave through the massive jams and delays that are routine.
This is not an anti-Braves commentary. Having been to enough Braves games over five-plus decades I am a longtime fan of the team. I have very personal reasons for supporting major league baseball. They made a move that is not only prudent but financially a huge win for the team.
As for the taxpayers in Cobb and the adjacent Sandy Springs, the verdict is still out. Cobb will take on the greatest brunt of the costs and fuzzy math suggests that a day of reckoning may come to pass for its residents. Sandy Springs has far less skin in the game but its footsy games with Cobb concerning traffic routes will place more burden on its police force and could damage home values in what were posh areas of the still-relatively new city. Again, the stuff of speculation.
What is not speculation is the clear fact that the area will not be prepared for the traffic onslaught that will hit much of Northside Atlanta next April on opening day. The “coincidental” widening of some roads and I-75 and I-285 improvements, all moving at a rapid pace, simply will not solve the traffic disaster that residents in a radius that goes well beyond Vinings and Sandy Springs will endure.
So consider this nightmare. The trip up Paces Ferry into Vinings or using popular cut-through streets is already one that can turn what would be an eight-minute ride into a 45-minute “New York state of mind.” One major culprit is the nation’s busiest railroad crossing which, when in use, cuts off the flow of vehicles trying to move from Vinings in the direction that leads to the new Braves stadium.
Adding just a few hundred cars, not thousands as could be the case, to those roads could create a gridlock stretching for miles in every direction.
And that’s just the start. The same scenario can be painted for East Cobb residents dependent of Lower Roswell Road-to-Dunwoody commuters who must navigate from an already nightmarish Ashford Dunwoody to head west on what is now and will be a more congested I-285.
The scenarios stretch from Gwinnett to Douglas counties.
Regardless of how it happened, the area is now headed towards a potential gridlock that will make past “Snow Jams” and “Snowmageddons” seem relatively tame.
Georgia Republican voters seemingly embraced “Trumpism” by turning out Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee. He championed the Braves move and in the process gave the impression that decisions related to it were for a select “members only” club. The result has been a stall in the momentum to fund the pedestrian bridges and people movers that were essential to even hoping that the traffic impact of the new park could be mitigated.
With less than a year remaining Cobb’s soon-to-be new Commission chairman– straight arrow, no-nonsense man, Mike Boyce– has the daunting task of preparing for a potentially
crippling event that could, if the team does well, repeat itself dozens of times next year. To say the least, Boyce is the innocent in this entire story.
Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul and its City Council, neighbors to the stadium, are mired in a “passion play” of apparently agreeing to and then publicly denouncing plans to make parts of their city an official route to Braves games. Add to that sweeping proposed land use plans that would clog Sandy Springs traffic even more with new townhomes, multifamily housing, and retail right at the intersection of baseball chaos and Sandy Springs affluence—Powers Ferry Road and New Northside Drive. Wow!
At least Sandy Springs is a city which can arguably fight for itself and its residents. The ”Village of Vinings” where I grew up, later represented in the Georgia House of Representatives and where I still own property today, is unincorporated and powerless. I hate to think of the irreparable damage it might suffer from added Braves-related traffic, as well as from ongoing future development with no legal entity to protect it.
What is the upshot of this message of woe? Officials from the federal and state levels down to mayors and commissioners had better get moving. And by moving, I don’t mean producing convoluted 10-year plans that mix pie-in-the-sky entities like MARTA expansion with hard-to-follow graphs of new sources of congestion or more reconfiguration of intersections that lead to, well, roads filled with cars. Those are dreams of the future.
Needed is needed is a transparent, easy-to-follow public plan that explains how officials will keep traffic flowing on game day— from Buckhead to East Cobb to Dunwoody and all parts within and beyond. You know, how everyone will get from point A to point B. That, by the way, doesn’t just mean from a ballpark to home. It means from a home to an afterhours school event or a gathering with friends, or sadly to an emergency room or hospital at say 6:45 on a given game night.
The Braves are not the villains in this story. And it is neither the legal duty nor the right of team officials to decide the traffic flow for residents.
That is the sole job of elected officials. And these politicians, those who are left standing, could be the heroes in the end. But as developments pop up by the day near the new stadium and dreams of mass transit and magical human transporters drift away, it’s time the public gets a solid handle in what they face and how their leaders plan to make things right.
If you don’t think those local TV news helicopters aren’t already planning to air the chaos of opening day 2017 and beyond, think again.
Matt Towery is an attorney, former Georgia state legislator and author of Newsvesting: Use News and Opinion to Grow Your Personal Wealth.