Plaza for Braves bridge removed to save money

After making the long trek across the bridge to SunTrust Park, pedestrians were going to be treated to a park-like plaza with manicured landscaping, a fountain of water cascading down steps, benches and an elevator to get back up to the bridge.

All of that is gone now, victim of the political desire to keep the bridges’ cost under $10 million.

A new $9.4 million estimate for the 1,100-foot bridge over Interstate 285 has scrapped the North End Plaza, for a savings of approximately $900,000. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained the new budget under Georgia’s Open Records Act.

The project is actually two bridges — a major span over the interstate that will carry pedestrians and, eventually, a circulator bus; and a shorter, pedestrian-only bridge skipping over Circle 75 Parkway.

The bridges will connect Cobb’s business hub with the Braves $1 billion stadium and mixed-use developments, and are considered critical safety elements to keep pedestrians off busy Cobb Parkway and away from traffic moving in or out of the stadium development.

Jim Wilgus, Cobb’s interim transportation director, told the AJC last month that the plaza was “value engineered” out of the project. What will take its place?

“There is a set of stairs,” Wilgus replied through email. The stairs appear to be two flights in construction documents.

The engineering team designing the two bridges found savings in other places too, according to the new budget: $311,000 from other landscaping; $310,000 from the construction budget for the interstate bridge; and $71,000 from retaining walls.

However, a lot of those savings could be put right back in the project — a line item on the new budget shows “optional” LED architectural lighting at $700,000 that is not part of the cost estimate.

The document says the budget represents 90-percent of the construction plans.

Commissioner Bob Ott, who represents the stadium area, said he doesn’t think anyone at the county knows what the final price will be. He called it a “political bridge” because it has been controversial and Commission Chairman Tim Lee has promised that it would not cost more than $9 million.

“All I know is that as a commissioner, I have not seen a budget for the project,” Ott said. “I would hope that next week the commissioners will be shown it.”

It was difficult for the AJC to get the cost estimate.

The newspaper reported in October that a preliminary budget for the project showed two bridges and cost estimates $2.2 million more than the $9 million price tag Lee had said would not be exceeded.

The AJC made a request for all bridge-related documentation again this year, after commissioners approved the bridge’s design in January. The newspaper received 950 pages of documents with only three pages dealing with cost — the same three-page preliminary budget that the newspaper reported on in October.

That led the newspaper to make another request, specifically asking for bridge cost estimates, to which the county provided a power point presentation shown to commissioners — not detailed estimates of the various costs for construction materials.

“We did not ask for or receive a detailed cost estimate before the (commission) meeting,” Wilgus said in an email, referring to the engineering consultant designing the bridge.

The newspaper then asked why the county had not requested an estimate of detailed costs, why there was no documentation of the costs outlined in the power point, and how engineers were able to come up with a credible budget if there were no detailed estimates.

Wilgus responded with the updated budget, which includes detailed line items showing the cost of materials to be used for building the roadway, drainage, signage, security, lighting, landscaping, walls and both bridges.

The Cumberland CID has agreed to provide $5 million for bridge construction; the county plans to use Federal Transit Administration funding for its share.

Those costs do not include $800,000 for the engineering firm or land purchases that will be necessary before the bridges can be built. The county is currently in negotiations with two land owners. Commissioners last week delayed a decision on a transportation department request to allow the county to force the sale of land through a court action, if the negotiations fall apart.

Wilgus said he anticipates contracts for bridge construction to be let in April. The county hopes it will be open a year later in time for the first pitch in the new stadium.

Go here to see a video of the bridge’s design.

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