Cobb Commissioner Bob Ott looks over plans with Jane Strickland with Cobb County Department of Transportation at the intersection of Windy Hill Road and Circle 75 Parkway on Friday.
MARIETTA — About a billion dollars’ worth of infrastructure improvements are coming to east Cobb over the next two to three years, according to Commissioner Bob Ott, who represents the area.
Ott also said many of these improvements are unrelated to the Braves stadium deal and have been in the works for some time.
Among the biggest projects are a “diverging diamond” interchange at the intersection of Windy Hill Road and Interstate 75, improvements to Windy Hill Road east and west of the interstate, a complete reconfiguration of the interchange at Atlanta Road and I-285 and “reversible lanes” coming to I-75.
The number and scope of the projects in the area prompted Ott to put together a committee of 20-25 government officials to coordinate between all the departments involved, including the water authority, parks and recreation, transportation, communication and information services departments.
“It just seemed to make sense that we bring all these groups together so that everybody knew what everyone else was doing, and also so that we could coordinate communication with the public as to where there might be congestion today or next week,” Ott said.
Ott said the information services department was brought in to help disseminate the information about the projects and their impact on traffic.
“Some of the early discussions have been enhancing or beefing up some of the systems the county already has. We have the Friday updates. We have CobbLine,” Ott said. “It’s really all about what is the best way to get the information out to the most number of people.”
The committee is also working on a new mobile app being developed to help citizens track the projects and the resulting traffic, and Ott said he hopes it will have the ability to provide users this information in real time.
In addition to public outreach, Ott said the committee has also made it a priority to coordinate their efforts so any work requiring a lane closure can be done at once, instead of closing the lane multiple times.
“If you have a plan to coordinate lane closures, where if one department is going to have it closed for this period of time, if another department would have closed it, well, hey, let’s have everybody in there at the same time whenever possible,” Ott said.
Windy Hill Road getting major facelift
The county plans to begin construction on at least four major projects along Windy Hill Road in the next two years.
Three of the projects, near the intersection of Windy Hill Road and I-75, are set to begin this fall, according to Jane Stricklin, District 2 Engineer for the Cobb Department of Transportation. Stricklin said the county will open bids for the projects August 28, with commissioners later approving the contracts.
Stricklin said designs for the three projects were paid for by the Cumberland Community Improvement District and construction for all three projects is likely to begin in October and be complete by March 2017.
The first project will include adding a median and additional lane on each side of Windy Hill Road from Cobb Parkway to I-75 and replacing existing sidewalks along the Windy Hill stretch. The project is estimated to cost a total of about $14.5 million, which Stricklin said would come from the 2011 special purpose local option sales tax.
Ott said this is essential to improving traffic flow through the corridor, especially since the Macland Road Connector opened in 2011.
“When Macland Road was connected to Windy Hill, it added 14,000 cars a day to Windy Hill,” Ott said.
East of I-75, from the interstate to Spectrum Circle, a second project will add a median and reconfigure the existing six lanes into three lanes traveling in either direction. Stricklin said the project, also financed with 2011 SPLOST funds, is estimated to cost a total of about $4.7 million.
Ott cited safety concerns, as well as traffic flow improvements, as the reason for this project.
“There has been some safety concerns in front of Pappadeaux’s restaurant,” Ott said. “And so, what’s happening is, the traffic light currently at Leland and Interstate North (Parkway) is basically being moved in front of Pappadeaux’s. And so they’ll be some realignment of Leland Drive to come out around behind the BP that’s there.”
A third project on Windy Hill Road from Spectrum Circle to Windy Ridge Parkway will add a westbound lane to ease congestion. Sidewalks on the westbound side of Windy Hill will be replaced as well. Stricklin said the project is estimated to cost a total of $3.3 million and will be financed with 2005 SPLOST funds and a $1.5 million grant from the Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank, which was obtained by the Cumberland CID.
The fourth major project to improve Windy Hill Road is the diverging diamond interchange to be built on the bridge over I-75. The interchange is designed to allow vehicles to cross to the opposite sides of the road on the bridge when entering or exiting the freeway, eliminating the need for those drivers to make left turns. The county is waiting for approval of the project from the Georgia DOT and the Federal Highway Administration, Stricklin said.
The intersection of Windy Hill Road and I-75 has been studied for at least a decade, Stricklin said, and the county decided to implement the interchange because he said it is projected to reduce accidents, it is cost-effective and the county can use the existing bridge, rather than building a new one.
Stricklin said the interchange is set to be funded by a combination of a $2.4 million grant from the GTIB, a $6 million grant from the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program and about $5 million from the Cumberland CID; the remainder of the $20 million project will be financed with 2011 SPLOST funds. Stricklin said the Cobb DOT is looking to break ground in fall 2015 and complete the interchange by March 2017.
Reversible lanes and stadium traffic
The state transportation department will attempt to thin traffic in and out of Atlanta by laying roads that funnel commuters in different directions depending on the time of day.
Georgia’s “Managed Lanes” project will add nearly 30 miles of reversible toll lanes along the west side of I-75.
Stricklin said the lanes, which will head south in the mornings and north in the evenings, would be completed by 2018.
GDOT lists the estimated project cost as $834 million.
The lanes will run near the new home of the Atlanta Braves.
Even though a Cobb Superior Court judge validated the bonds the county plans to issue to finance the stadium’s construction Friday, there will be a period of 30 days to allow for appeals, according to Board of Commissioners Chairman Tim Lee. And even after the appeals process ends, it will likely take 30 to 60 days for the county to have the money to pay the construction firm, Lee said, though he noted construction has already begun on the site to adjust the grading and move two gas lines that run through the property.
Ott said the upcoming road improvements are unrelated to the Braves stadium.
“Clearly these improvements were contemplated prior to the Braves, but they’re not going to hurt what’s going on with the Braves. They’re going to help,” he said. “And I think what needs to happen between now and opening day is to take a look and say, ‘Here’s what we already have in the pipeline. Do we need to have some other projects that will further enhance it?’”
Ott said county officials have a meeting about the Braves project about every two weeks, and the DOT is currently looking into possible solutions to increased traffic in the area. Still, these projects were a priority for his committee.
“It’s an ongoing process. You have to get stuff out of the ground so you know those are going to move forward, then you continue analysis as to what additional things you want to do for the Braves,” Ott said.
Private growth and public improvement
Rob Hosack, the county’s community development director, said the area has seen a burst of development ahead of the infrastructure improvements.
“We have seen a really big uptick,” Hosack said. “What’s interesting is we actually started seeing this in advance of the Braves development.”
Hosack estimated “conservatively” the Cumberland area has hosted $250 million worth of new construction in the past two years — and said he expected to see the same type of investment over the next two.
The county put together three master plans outlining a vision for the area’s development, Hosack said, specifying where “intensely-developed” quarters would go and where “cushion” quarters of less development would fall.
“I think we created a lot of buy-in,” Hosack said of the master plans, adding businesses were encouraged to bring development to the area once the county “had a blueprint to follow.”
He highlighted the growth of residential development around the area, touting the construction of two new “in-town residential communities” that will provide apartment living in proximity to both the urban locale of Cumberland and trails that will allow residents to walk to Chattahoochee National Park.
Hosack said the complexes offer a “huge incentive” to both commercial and residential developers mulling a move to the area.
He said the county transportation department has “done a great job getting out in front” of impending traffic interruptions that will accompany all of the construction activity.
“(Cobb DOT) has got a very detailed plan, taking into account not only the construction related to road projects, but also the stuff we anticipate being under development in the private sector,” Hosack said.