Cobb police voice confidence over Braves traffic plan

A model car sits alone on a road surrounding a scale model of the new Braves stadium at the SunTrust Park Preview Center. BRANDEN CAMP/SPECIAL
A model car sits alone on a road surrounding a scale model of the new Braves stadium at the SunTrust Park Preview Center. BRANDEN CAMP/SPECIAL

Despite anticipated traffic headaches, Cobb County's public safety department is confident that baseball fans will be able to get to their seats in the new SunTrust Park before game time.

The county is still developing a traffic management plan, but officials are hopeful, Cobb Public Safety Director Sam Heaton and Sgt. J.D. Lorens said Thursday at a luncheon organized by the Cobb Chamber of Commerce.

The Braves announced over the summer that first pitch would be pushed from 7:10 to 7:30 at the new stadium.

“Most people come to the stadium about one hour before game time,” Lorens said. “From that 6:30 to 7:30 hour, according to the model, we can get 90 percent of the traffic into the lots.”

Lorens said they anticipated many people would arrive earlier than that to patronize the restaurants and entertainment venues of the nearby Battery development — also owned by the Braves.

“I don’t want you to miss the first pitch because you’re sitting in the parking lot,” Lorens said.

According to the same model, 70 percent of the “background traffic”— traffic not heading to the stadium — will have subsided by 6 p.m., Lorens said.

“It’s just going to look like an extension of rush hour,” he said. “We’re not putting any more cars on top of rush hour.”

Lorens and Heaton also revealed a plan to allow open alcohol containers in the streets surrounding the stadium that the Board of Commissioners will have to approve.

Lorens acknowledged there were concerns, including controlling pedestrian crossings on major roads, choke points at the entrances to parking lots, and congestion at the Circle 75 exit off Interstate 285 due to construction.

“What you see right now is not what you’re going to see on first pitch,” Lorens assured the audience. “As soon as all that’s done before first pitch, we’re going to gain all that capacity.”

Lorens said the county is seeking input on the traffic plan from residents and stakeholders, who he urged to reach out to him at the Cobb Police Department. Cobb's community development department is also now accepting applications from private property owners who wish to rent out parking lots for games. That comes after pushback over a previous ban on such lots.

Speaking after the presentation, Heaton responded to criticism that the county is spending too much money and public resources on the Braves. The team will be providing private security, including off-duty police officers, inside the stadium and The Battery, but Cobb will also provide an unknown number of law enforcement personnel in the area, mostly for traffic control, Heaton said.

“Anytime we have a big event in the county, that occurs, whether people realize it or not,” Heaton said. “Whether it’s a big event here at (the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre) or the air show or maybe even KSU having a football game, we always utilize our special units for these big events. So it’s really not out of the norm.”

When the Braves announced the later start time for games at the new stadium back in July, the team said they would roll out the second phase of their traffic plan in December and a third and final one in early 2017.

A spokesperson for the team wrote in an email that Thursday’s presentation was not part of the Braves’ phased roll-out.

“We decided not to have one in December as originally planned because we thought the information might get lost with the holidays,” Thanksgiving through the New Year, the spokesperson wrote. “We will have phase two in January that will include the things that Sam and J.D. mentioned today. Phase three will take place closer to Opening Day.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last week that the team unsuccessfully sought access to Dobbins Air Reserve Base for charter flights.