Along with the excitement of SunTrust Park’s grand opening next month comes a familiar dread: navigating Atlanta traffic.
Just how long will it take to drive to Atlanta Braves games, in time for a 7:35 p.m. first pitch? The Atlanta Journal-Constitution dispatched five reporters and editors to find out.
We took to the streets during a recent Friday rush hour, driving from various locations across the metro area to SunTrust Park in Cobb County, located near the congested crossroads of I-285 and I-75.
The result of our experiment surprised us. Despite fears that we’d be stalled in miles of barely moving cars, it wasn’t too bad. Even the longest trips, from Jonesboro and Lawrenceville, took about an hour.
Of course, past performance is no guarantee of future results.
Everyone knows all it takes is an accident or two in the right places to snarl traffic for hours. And most people expect traffic will only get worse when thousands of Braves fans add their cars into the fray. The team expects 12,000 to 13,000 vehicles per game, said Mike Plant, the Braves’ president of development. And there are 81 home games a year, though just under half are on weekends.
“Anytime you have a special event, be it a baseball game, a concert, or a festival, bringing a large amount of people to one area of town at a specific time, you’re going to see an increase in traffic. It’s just that simple,” said Natalie Dale, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Transportation.
On the other hand, the Cobb location will be more convenient for many drivers. Those living around and outside the Perimeter won’t have to contend with gridlock on the Downtown Connector as they did when trying to reach Turner Field along I-85 and I-75.
For the AJC’s test-drive, we departed at 5 p.m. on Friday, March 10, from five locations: Acworth, Alpharetta, Jonesboro, Lawrenceville and Midtown Atlanta.
We were prepared for the worst the city had to offer.
But there were no significant accidents clogging major arteries, though we ran into slowdowns exactly where you’d expect. Back-ups occurred along I-75 near Delk Road and Windy Hill Road near SunTrust Park, along the north end of I-285, and near Spaghetti Junction at I-85.
The Braves are suggesting that fans use the Waze traffic app, which accounts for driving conditions, to guide their trips. The app helped us avoid some choke points by taking side streets.
For instance, Waze directed us around parts of Ga. 400 on the drive from Alpharetta. Depending on our route, the app took us to surface streets like Powers Ferry Road, Northside Drive or Windy Hill Road — avoiding the Cumberland Cloverleaf intersection of I-285 and I-75.
From Midtown Atlanta along West Peachtree Street, the 11-mile drive took just 26 minutes. The slowest part of the drive was on city streets before reaching the Downtown Connector. While traffic piled up in southbound lanes, the northbound journey was a breeze.
In Lawrenceville, the trip from the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center was easy until reaching the Perimeter, which always seems to stall, even in favorable conditions. The 32-mile drive lasted 58 minutes.
Most of the day’s longest drive, a 35-mile trek from Jonesboro on the southside, was spent on the western portion of I-285. Traffic from the Harold R. Banke Justice Center slowed to a crawl at times, but cars drove at 45 mph to 65 mph for other parts of the journey, which lasted an hour and four minutes.
From Acworth City Hall to the north of SunTrust Park, the 20-mile route was completed in 40 minutes, with slowdowns near construction along I-75, where managed lanes are being built.
The 23-mile, 50-minute trip from downtown Alpharetta avoided the Perimeter altogether by cutting through side streets in Sandy Springs.
In the end, we might not know traffic patterns on game day until the baseball season is well underway. Drivers will explore the best routes to the stadium, and traffic will come to a head in the areas closest to SunTrust Park.
So the Braves have one last word of advice: Buy parking passes in advance. That might minimize the number optimistic drivers looking for empty spaces near the park.
Staff writers J. Scott Trubey, David Wickert, Kelly Yamanouchi, Todd Duncan and David Gibson contributed to this report.