Bridge to broaden access to KSU campus

Funding breakdown

Town Center Area Community Improvement District: $1.4 million

Kennesaw State University: $735,092

Georgia Department of Transportation: $10.6 million

Cobb County 2011 SPLOST TIP: $3.9 million

*The Skip Spann Connector is budgeted to cost $17 million, but that figure could be adjusted downward after final costs and the contractor bids are finalized. Current funding adds up to about $14 million.

Source: Cobb County Department of Transportation.

Traffic during construction

Shovels should start to turn for the Skip Spann Connector at the beginning of 2014 after the project bids are finalized later this year. Commuters could have to deal with temporary lane closures during off-peak hours. Construction of a roundabout could also prompt the closure of Busbee Drive for up to 90 days. Should that happens, traffic from Busbee Drive would be detoured onto Town Park Lane and George Busbee Parkway.

A bridge over I-75 set for a groundbreaking ceremony on Wednesday will give Kennesaw State University students better access to their football stadium, restaurants and retail.

As if college students needed an easier way to shop.

Joking aside, the so-called Skip Spann Connector is expected to be a big bonus for the university’s 25,000 students as well as north Cobb County commuters. It will feature two lanes of traffic in each direction, plus turn lanes, wide sidewalks on each side and a 4-foot bicycle lane to help pedestrians and cyclists.

The 48,000 drivers who travel on Chastain Road at I-75 each day should see traffic reduced by 19 percent when the $17 million bridge opens in mid-2015, according to the Cobb County Department of Transportation.

The Skip Spann Connector will combine with Big Shanty Road, another east-west feeder route that opened last summer, to draw traffic away from car-choked Chastain Road. The new corridor will start at Frey Road and end at Busbee Drive.

KSU is currently hemmed in to the east and north by I-75, which curls up and around the campus. The new bridge will make the state’s third-largest university less of an island. Besides providing passage to homes and businesses east of the interstate, it opens up another route to KSU’s 88-acre sports facility and football stadium, KSU president Dr. Daniel Papp said.

“This will give us a wonderful way to get over to the east side,” Papp said. “It will help reduce the isolation to the east in a similar way that the overpass from Georgia Tech to Technology Square wound up opening up the Midtown area to (that campus).”

Businesses around Barrett Parkway and Town Center are looking forward to a reduction in traffic congestion, which can get so heavy that it drives away potential customers, said Lanie Shipp, executive director Town Center Community Improvement District.

With or without the addition of the Skip Spann Connector, traffic on Chastain Road will worsen over the next 20 years. But instead of ballooning to 54,000 average vehicles per day, it will swell only slightly to 49,000 vehicles per day, according to the Cobb DOT.

“A lot of the roads here are all tied up because there is no access to I-75 from Kennesaw State University,” said Andrew Eichenblatt, who owns a local print store called Printgraphics. “This will give us greater accessibility to our customers.”

The Skip Spann Connector was on the list of approved projects on last year’s transportation sales tax referendum. When metro Atlanta voters rejected the tax, most of the transportation projects in that pipeline stalled.

But Cobb County government pooled its resources with KSU and the Town Center Area CID to complete initial studies and acquire the right-of-way. They then went to Gov. Nathan Deal and convinced him to commit an additional $10.5 million in state funding for the project, said Cobb DOT engineer Michael S. Wright.

The bridge is designed to be as attractive as it is functional. At night, the outer structure of the bridge will light up to display the silhouette of Kennesaw Mountain rising above a metal trellis.

The project is named after Skip Spann, the former general manager of Town Center at Cobb who later became associate director of development for athletics at KSU. Spann died in 2012 at the age of 73.

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