Gridlock Guy: Mass transit improvements key to Braves stadium success

You have probably seen the artist rendering of the sleek new Braves stadium. Set to open in 2017, SunTrust Park should be a state of the art live-work-play facility with more options for patrons than Turner Field could ever dream of offering. Though the new park will have 9,000 fewer seats than Turner Field, the added attractions should boost crowds at the site in the northwest quadrant of the Interstate 75/Interstate 285 interchange in Cobb County.

This brings us to what should be the biggest concern of SunTrust Park - the traffic.

Turner Field is smack dab in middle of downtown Atlanta, so Braves games do damage the ride on I-75/85. But the added delays from home games only hurt the ride so much - the effect is contained. Sun Trust Park’s proximity to the busy I-75/I-285 interchange puts this amount of volume in an untested place.

Both the two interstates and the big surface streets in the Cumberland area are already busy. Local officials are working with developers on big changes, including intersection redesigns, sidewalk installation, a diverging diamond for Windy Hill Road at I-75, a pedestrian bridge, and 15 planned entry/exit points to the new property. Officials are also planning stepped-up services from Cobb Community Transit buses and MARTA.

If things go as planned, people should move in the general vicinity of the stadium with greater ease than near Turner Field.

But the people trying to come from farther away will still run into big time delays. Now the downtown delays are contained and travels to a Braves game are usually O.K. until the big jam just a few miles away. A drive to a Braves game in 2017 could involve big delays many more miles away on I-285 and I-75/northbound often slows several miles before the Perimeter on bad traffic days.

We need to see a traffic plan that caters to more than motorists within a small radius of SunTrust Park.

One idea would be a way to shuttle people from the North and Northeast MARTA lines to the new stadium. The Department of Transportation could implement shoulder lanes on I-285 (like the ones on GA-400 and soon on Interstate 85) before and after the games for use by MARTA buses only. Buses could gather and transport people from the Doraville and Perimeter stations straight to the stadium, much like they do from Five Points to Turner Field. Braves officials could even work with MARTA on discounts for ballgame goers when they use the trains or buses.

Mass transit development is critical for the traffic plan to SunTrust Park to be successful. Braves officials are trying to buy up land to increase parking capacity near the site, but that won’t be enough. Remember, the area near SunTrust Park is much busier than at Turner Field. Cumberland Mall officials are challenging the Braves, saying they don’t want fans parking at the mall and not shopping there. Expect more difficulties as the Braves try to settle into the area. This means that the age-old Atlanta tradition of only being able to drive to a Braves game in 2017 and beyond will not work.

The key to this whole thing will be setting up convenient and far-stretching mass transit to get fans from all corners of Metro Atlanta to one of its busiest corners.

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