MARIETTA - Struck from the memorandum of understanding the Cobb Board of Commissioners approved last month with the Atlanta Braves was its proposal to build a bus rapid transit system connecting Kennesaw State University through Cumberland to Midtown, Atlanta.
County Chairman Tim Lee said he only wanted to include the projects that could be completed by the time the ballpark opens in 2017.
"On the list of transportation projects, we only wanted to include those projects that we believed would be finished by the time they opened up in three years," Lee said. "There's too many questions as to the future of the BRT program, we thought we would take that off because we didn't want that on there and people thinking that we were promising we were going to do it."
The county's $1.8 million "Northwest Corridor Alternatives Analysis" study led by Marietta-based Croy Engineering in September 2012 recommended building a $1.1 billion bus system connecting KSU with Midtown. The county is paying Cary, N.C.-based Kimley-Horn and Associates $3 million for an environmental study of that proposed bus route, which Lee expects to be finished this spring. That study will determine whether the system is economically and environmentally feasible, Lee said.
An issue for the governor's race
Pollster and political consultant Matt Towery gave a radio interview recently predicting the new stadium had the potential to become a hot button issue in the governor's race since permission to build an entrance/exit ramp for the ballpark site onto state or federal roadways would involve the Georgia Department of Transportation.
The Marietta Daily Journal asked Mike Plant, executive vice president of business operations for the Braves, if he would be seeking any such ramps for his 60-acre site from the state DOT.
"We haven't had those discussions yet, but I think the governor said a couple of weeks ago, 'Look, when you start looking at a facility that has millions of people coming through, it doesn't matter where it is in the state, that's something that GDOT engages in those discussions.' So you know, I'll probably refrain my comments about guys like Matt and others that seem to have answers about how to run our business without ever talking to us," Plant said.
Lee also weighed in on Towery's remark about transportation access to the new stadium involving the governor's race.
"I don't agree with that at all," Lee said. "285, 75 and 41 are all state highways or federal highways with state responsibility or they're state property. When we make our improvement, we're going to have to work with the state because it's their assets, but it's not going to be an issue that's going to rise to whether or not it's in the governor's race."
Lee described the transportation improvements to be made around the stadium site as similar to any project the county works with the state on when making changes to state properties.
The question of whether an access ramp for the stadium will be connected to the tolled managed lanes along I-75 that are set to open in 2018 is as yet unanswered, he said.
"We haven't studied it, but conceptually, would it make sense to have the folks coming north in the p.m. peak, if they come from Atlanta and they want to go to the game, they're most likely going to have multiple people in (the car), is there a way just a thorough process for them to get access directly to the stadium if they're in the managed lane?" Lee asked. "It's a question that needs to be asked. It would be a question (candidates for governor) may have to answer, but I don't think it's going to make or break the governor. That's a routine issue that comes up all the time with economic development projects - just like when they built the Kia plant, the Caterpillar facility. I'm sure the state got involved with roadway projects there as well and it's just a matter of routine. I think people are trying to make hay out of something that isn't."
Lee said he is waiting for a site plan of the stadium development to help decide how to proceed.
"I think we ought to wait for when we have a site plan that's more specific as to what they want to put what where, and then we'll sit down and do a transit plan after that," Lee said. "I would imagine the next three to six months that would be determined."
New site more accessible despite lack of MARTA rail
During a press conference following Tuesday's vote by the Board of Commissioners, Atlanta columnist Maria Saporta spoke of the distance the Cobb stadium would be from MARTA.
MARTA pays the columnist's "Saporta Report" website to provide "thought leadership."
Braves Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing Derek Schiller answered by saying, "As it relates to the rail options, I think that's a question for Cobb County. Obviously, they reference the BRT and some of the changes that were made as it relates to the MOU tonight. The greater question and what you're really asking about is access to the site. And access to this site is far improved to Turner Field."
Schiller referenced the "heat map" that shows where most ticket buyers come from to attend Braves games.
"Obviously, we're moving 12 miles up the road closer to the majority of our ticket buyers and couple that with major increases in the ingress and egress to the site, we're of the belief and lots of others have had input into this that access to this site will be better than it is to Turner Field," Schiller said.
Plant said there's been some "traffic and transit alarm" concerning the impact the Braves would have on the roadways.
"I heard tonight about parking," Plant said. "We have 6,000 parking spaces that we're currently developing that we're putting into the stadium footprint. There's another 30,000 parking spaces around the Cumberland area. We are in very positive lease discussions to lease parking spaces. And we will have parking leases that will far surpass the parking we have at Turner Field."
Consider, too, that next year, the Braves have 45 games between Monday and Thursday, Plant said.
"So I think you've got to keep things in perspective here," he said. "There's a certain faction out there that wants to promote doom and gloom of traffic. That is not a year-round proposition by Braves baseball."