Braves stadium bridge funding, future uncertain

A critical element to keep traffic flowing around the Braves stadium in Cobb County is a bridge over Interstate 285 that would allow fans to park at the Cobb Galleria Centre and either walk or ride a bus over the highway to the game.

The bridge plan, rolled out soon after the November announcement that the team would relocate to Cobb County in 2017, is key in the Braves’ effort to provide enough parking spaces and get pedestrians from that area to the ballpark without walking along congested roads.

But new questions have surfaced about the bridge project and whether there’s money to pay for it in the existing stadium budget, which includes $14 million in local sales tax earmarked for transportation upgrades.

Faye DeMassimo, director of the Cobb Department of Transportation, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Monday that the bridge might not be constructed, saying: “I don’t know that anything about it is definite at this point.”

An agreement negotiated between the county and the Braves, and obtained by the AJC last week through the state’s Open Records Act, says the bridge is “subject to best efforts to obtain funding for design and construction.”

DeMassimo later modified her statement, saying there is “a strong commitment on behalf of the county to accomplish this infrastructure.”

She went on to say that it is unclear how much of the $14 million the county has set aside for transportation improvements will be spent on the bridge — which has risen in its estimated cost to $9 million from $3.5 million.

“The what, the where and the how is still under development,” DeMassimo added. “Sometimes there are federal monies to help with a project like this. It’s hard to know what the funding will be.”

DeMassimo said money from the county’s current Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax could be used for a portion of the bridge. She said the county hopes to use some combination of “federal, state and local” funds on the project.

“Our current SPLOST has a funding in it for pedestrian infrastructure, and that would be eligible … for matching” funds of a federal or state grant, she said.

Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee would not be interviewed for this story, but issued a statement through a county spokesman that said the bridge is “still anticipated” and that the county “should know more in the next several months.”

The Braves also declined to comment.

On Tuesday, the Cobb Commission is expected to approve a $445,000 contract with URS Corp., which is being hired to recommend the type of vehicle the county should use for the circulator; how many vehicles it will need; its schedule; routes; and estimate the annual operational costs, currently thought to be about $1 million per year. The circulator will run to Kennesaw State University and other destinations around the county.

Cobb could implement circulator transit without building the bridge over the interstate.

County SPLOST money will be used to pay 20 percent of the URS contact, or about $89,000. The rest will be covered by a federal grant.

Commissioner Bob Ott said he’s surprised to hear that there are questions hanging over the bridge.

“We were told all along that it was part of the plan,” Ott said. “The whole reason we’re hiring a consultant is to come up with a plan for the circulator. It may be that they come back and say it’s too expensive and there’s a cheaper way to operate it.”

Taxpayer watchdogs have expressed frustration over the shifting finances related to the stadium plan. The AJC reported last month that the county likely will borrow $18.2 million more than they told the public because it will roll the first year of interest and borrowing costs into the bond issuance.

Lance Lamberton, president of the Cobb Taxpayers Association, said he thinks the bridge is important to the ballpark’s overall success.

“They need the bridge. They need the circulator, and they need to go to the Braves to pay for it,” Lamberton said.