The potential for major-league traffic tie-ups in the Atlanta Braves’ new neighborhood has long weighed on the minds of wary commuters and officials tasked with addressing it.
The county and the state of Georgia have spent tens of millions of dollars to improve roads and intersections around the new stadium. The Braves have delayed game times, dispersed parking lots, and deployed traffic apps to ease congestion.
Then on the eve of the Braves’ debut at SunTrust Park, a pivotal chunk of asphalt literally disappears. The I-85 bridge collapse is bound to snarl traffic for weeks if not months to come - and today will almost certainly be dreadful.
So what should baseball fans expect tonight?
“People just need to plan extra time,” WSB traffic reporter Doug Turnbull advised.
Cobb County hasn’t announced any changes to parking or traffic-routing plans as a result of the 85 disaster. The team urges fans to come extra early.
“Due to the bridge incident on I-85 in Atlanta, we encourage our fans to plan before they leave for the game," the Braves said in a statement. "Traffic patterns in Atlanta will be adjusted for everyone, so please listen to local authorities as they direct you around the metro area. Also, we encourage all fans to purchase their parking before they leave today at braves.com/parking and trust (traffic app) Waze to get you directly to your parking lot.”
Alyssa Barnett-Schott and her partner and daughter are eager to check out the new stadium. They're leaving Decatur at 4 p.m. to make it in time for first pitch.
"Luckily I did not have to work today. I took the day off," said Barnett-Schott, who works in Gwinnett County. "We're going to avoid downtown as much as possible."
Before the Braves moved, they could make it to Turner Field in 15 minutes, an impossibility regardless of traffic conditions to the new stadium. Throw in a regionally impactful traffic disaster and .. who knows?
"We did get a parking pass for tonight," she said. "Ordinarily we would be public transportation people. I really have no idea what to expect."
Some nuts and bolts for tonight - when parking lots open, when gates open, accessing tickets, etc. - are posted here.
The team earlier posted a note of thanks and support for first responders.
We are keeping everyone affected by the fire in our thoughts & are grateful to @ATLFireRescue & all first responders for all that they do.— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) March 31, 2017
AJC transportation reporter David Wickert talked to officials about traffic planning before anyone imagined a portion of I-85 would be gone by game time. From his coverage:
“SunTrust Park sits just west of the junction of I-75 and I-285. Nearly 154,000 vehicles pass through that stretch of I-75 on an average day, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation. Tens of thousands more cruise local roads in the surrounding area, where some 65,000 people work.
The area will become even busier when the Braves open SunTrust Park and a mix of apartments, offices and shops adjacent to the stadium.
Traffic was already bad before the Braves announced the stadium development. In recent years it’s been worse as GDOT and Cobb County launched numerous road improvements, some linked to the stadium, others not.”
Exacerbating tonight’s potential traffic mess: the thousands of vacationers hitting the road to get out of town.
“The push of Spring Break traffic and the extra push on I-285 and I-75 with people avoiding the I-85 closure” will likely keep Turnbull busy later today.
Still, he isn’t predicting a dire trek to the ballpark - assuming travelers leave plenty of time to get there.
“It will be a soft opening, so the impact will not nearly be as adverse as if this were the real home opener,” he said.
That’s coming up soon, on April 14.