Braves bridge budget shows $2.2 million in additional costs

The first detailed budget for the bridges connecting Cobb County’s business epicenter with the Atlanta Braves’ SunTrust Park show costs that are $2.2 million higher than previously stated.

The budget shows the 1,100-foot main span arching over Interstate 285, for pedestrians and a shuttle bus, coming in at $9 million — or the cost that county officials have cited for the past two years.

But it also shows a second span, over Circle 75 Parkway for walkers and bicyclists only, that has never been included in the county’s official cost estimates. The budget was submitted to the Georgia Department of Transportation in August and obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through Georgia’s Open Records Act.

County officials said the Braves will pay for the pedestrian-only bridge construction. But it’s unclear who will cover the $800,000 cost for a proposed plaza that is considered separate from the construction expense. The plaza has stairs to the pedestrian bridge, an elevator, water fountain, benches and brick paving.

Braves’ officials last week were unwilling to specify what aspects of the pedestrian bridge and plaza they will fund.

“Given the timing of the bridge project and the number of parties involved in its ultimate execution, it is too early for us to give any specifics on potential financial contributions,” a statement issued by the team said.

County officials did not respond Monday when asked if taxpayers would cover the cost of the plaza.

Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee announced Sept. 16 that the bridge project would be delayed, making it impossible for the bridge to open for any part of the Braves’ inaugural 2017 season at SunTrust Park. The bridge is considered key to keeping pedestrians off busy streets around the stadium on game days and for making sure the people-moving circulator buses stays out of game-day traffic around the stadium.

Lee said he planned to continue pushing for the project, and that he would pay for the county’s share with a combination of federal transit funds and 2016 special purpose sales tax revenue.

“Make no mistake, I am not rethinking the idea of the bridge,” Lee said in a statement. “I continue to believe that the bridge would be a major asset to Cobb County.”

Tom Cheek, a West Cobb software salesman and observer of county government, called the project the “magic bridge” when addressing commissioners at a meeting last month.

“I think of it of the magic bridge because the cost stays the same no matter what the what the scenario is,” Cheek said. “It’ll cost $9 million. You can add a million (dollars) in design costs, $3 million in parking deck improvements, add double decker or single decker components; water misters; multiple diverging exit ramps.

“How much now? $9 million. That is a magic bridge.”

The AJC previously reported on other costs associated with the bridge project that are not included in the county’s $9 million estimate — including the county’s $2 million estimate for land purchase; an estimated $3.5 million to reinforce a parking deck into which the bridge would tie; and approximately $800,000 to the bridge engineers.

Lee did not answer the AJC’s questions after announcing the bridge construction delay, or when the AJC reported that GDOT would not fund any portion of the bridge or necessary parking deck improvements. He responded to questions last week only via emails sent through his spokeswoman.

In his written statements, Lee said the $3.5 million estimate for strengthening the Galleria parking deck is now “irrelevant” because of a proposed hotel that might be constructed next to the convention center.

“When the Galleria Authority decided to move forward with the hotel feasibility study, this estimate became invalid,” Lee’s statement said. “The proposed hotel will also impact the deck. Reconstruction to accommodate a circulator makes no sense when we know it will have to be reconstructed again to house a convention hotel.”

When asked about the validity of the county’s $2 million estimate for land purchases — also known as right of way — Cobb transportation director Faye DiMassimo said that cost has yet to be determined because there are “no final design plans.”

The AJC recently reviewed some 950 pages of documents obtained under the state’s open records law. Those records include a $500,000 cost estimate to relocate an Atlanta Gas and Power utility line that had not previously been disclosed by the county. DiMassimo said that cost has been “eliminated.”

When asked for a complete cost estimate for the bridge, DiMassimo said: “All design and costs are currently under review. No proposals have been finalized or presented to the Board of Commissioners.”

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