KENNESAW — A parade of vintage cars from the 1970s marked the reopening of Big Shanty Road in the Town Center Community Improvement District on Wednesday.
The cars, as well as the pervasive ’70s rock and disco music, were designed to take the more than 100 attendees back to the last time the road was open.
Some attendees wore hippie clothing, while county leaders jumped in cars including a purple Cadillac and a baby-blue GTO to wrap up the half-hour ceremony for the opening of the final phases of the $27.4 million project. The section of Big Shanty Road, located south of Chastain Road and north of Barrett Parkway, had been closed since before 1970, when construction of Interstate 75 bisected the route.
Construction on the project, totaling $16.9 million, is being paid with $8.1 million in federal stimulus money through the Georgia Department of Transportation; $6.3 million from the Town Center Community Improvement District and $2.5 million from Cobb County.
The county is paying a total of $11.1 million, with $7.9 million going toward right-of-way acquisitions. Dan McDuff, deputy director of Cobb DOT, said the numbers are tentative because some clean-up and median improvements on the roadway still need to be completed.
In addition, the county is paying $760,999 in utility costs.
The CID also kicked in $1.9 million for engineering.
Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee praised the federal, state and local support of the two-mile Big Shanty Extension, particularly the CID.
“I want to be clear in one thing: This project would not happen but for the Town Center CID,” Lee said. “If the Town Center CID didn’t exist, the leadership did not decide to get together years ago and tax themselves additionally, we would not be here today. I want you to understand how important CIDs are to the movement of traffic, the movement of people, the movement of bikes and for economic development in our county. It is critical that they succeed, and I’m proud to be a partner with them.”
The project’s $1.75 million grant from the State Road and Tollway Authority to the Town Center CID, which the CID will pay back, raised the ire of Larry Savage, one of Lee’s three opponents in the July 31 Republican Primary. Though Savage, the only one of Lee’s challengers in attendance at the ribbon-cutting, suspected the money came from toll collections on State Route 400, SRTA executive director Gena Evans insisted the money came from gas taxes.
But Savage, who has been strongly critical of the Cumberland and Town Center CIDs’ donations to the Metro Atlanta Voter Education Network for what he considers TSPLOST advocacy, was not pleased with that answer either.
“It’s taxpayer money,” he said. “In my mind, the CIDs are promoting the TSPLOST at the same time they are getting money from government for transportation. It’s the appearance of a conflict of interest. Whether it’s real or not, it’s the kind of thing that makes people lose faith in their government.”
CID executive director Lanie Shipp said the district had been looking at an east-west connection to alleviate traffic since it started in 1997. Two studies were conducted to determine its location.
“This proved to be the most logical place,” she said.
While the CID doesn’t typically fund construction, preferring to fund engineering costs, Shipp said Town Center, which is funded by property taxes levied on member businesses, had to do so with the Big Shanty project.
Kennesaw State University President Dr. Dan Papp said it can currently take 30 minutes to drive a half mile from his campus to I-75 during the afternoon rush hour. But the new route, which also includes a 10-foot-wide trail for bicycle and pedestrian use for students and others, will help take traffic off Chastain Road while providing better access to the school’s 88-acre sports and recreation complex, including its soccer stadium, which is located at the intersection of Big Shanty Road and George Busbee Parkway.
“With this connector, traffic in the area will be reduced tremendously,” he said.
McDuff said a Croy Engineering report completed for the project estimates that the Big Shanty connector will remove 19,100 vehicles per day from Barrett Parkway, between Cobb Parkway and I-75, and 13,000 vehicles per day from Chastain Road from Duncan Road to I-75 by 2025.
“Just like with the Windy-Mac Connector, we’re going to see an immediate impact,” McDuff said.
The completed project allows drivers to connect from Chastain Road, west of I-75, to Chastain Meadows Parkway, east of I-575. The first section to open, actually called Phase 3, widened the eastern part of Big Shanty Road from George Busbee Parkway to Chastain Meadows Parkway when it opened earlier this year.
Phases 1 and 2 opened to traffic Wednesday, McDuff said. Phase 2 creates new roadway from Town Point Drive to Barrett Lakes Boulevard, while widening the road to Chastain Road. This section of the roadway has a 35 mph speed limit, while the reminder is 45 mph.
Phase 1 of the Big Shanty Road extension, the connection from Barrett Lakes Boulevard under I-75 to George Busbee Parkway, also opened Wednesday.
C.W. Matthews Contracting Company Inc. of Marietta served as lead contractor on the project.
Construction on the project started in September 2009, with an original completion date of April 30, 2012. McDuff said complicated utility relocations and delays beyond the contractor’s control impacted the schedule. But the goal of finishing the project before the fall semester at KSU and Cobb County schools was realized.
Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting was held in a parking lot owned by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta in an area near graffiti-covered walls left over from an abandoned go-kart track. Northeast Cobb Commissioner JoAnn Birrell, whose district is connected to northwest Cobb Commissioner Helen Goreham’s district by the new road, said the project will make it easier for drivers to connect from the east to the west while avoiding heavily trafficked I-75 interchanges at Chastain Road and Barrett Parkway.
“I would think that with the access here opened up, it would attract businesses to want to come here, especially near the KSU area and the athletic fields and the Town Center area as well,” she said.
Others in attendance included Goreham and southeast Cobb Commissioner Bob Ott, state Sen. Lindsey Tippens (R-west Cobb), and Reps. Don Parsons (R-northeast Cobb) and Judy Manning (R-Marietta).
While the Big Shanty extension doesn’t currently offer access to I-75, McDuff said it is planned as an exit for a new managed toll lane that will open alongside the interstate.
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