Fifteen years ago when the members of the Cumberland Community Improvement District (CCID) set out on a plan to make multi-million dollar highway improvements, a new Atlanta Braves baseball stadium was probably not even a glimmer in someone’s eye. But in 2013 when the Braves chose Cobb County as the location for their new stadium, it was obvious all those long, long years of planning and persistence had paid off.
“People keep asking, ’Are you doing improvements because the Braves are coming,’ said Tad Leithead, chairman of the CCID. “I can only speak so far about the Braves. But the Braves are coming because we’re doing transportation improvements. Because those improvements are under way they will provide fantastic access.”
The improvement project is actually two projects that started out as one, but was later split to better utilize available funding. The first is the $12.6 million replacement of a bridge on U.S. 41 over the Chattahoochee River. Construction on the bridge got underway in 2011 and is continuing today. The old bridge was not only too narrow, Leithead said, but dysfunctional. On a rating scale of one to 100, it’s sufficiency rating was a mere 47. Anything under 50 is considered to be in need of replacement.
Part two of the project is the $35 million widening of U.S. 41 from four lanes to six lanes just north of the new bridge. The new stretch of highway will offer three opportunities to access the new stadium.
Both projects came with their share of challenges, Leithead said. The bridge joins two counties, Cobb and Fulton, meaning planners had to work not only with state and federal transportation departments but with two counties as well. And while Cobb is widening U.S. 41 on its side, Fulton is not.
“You go from six lanes to a four-lane road,” said Leithead. “You can’t just put a brick wall there and let cars drive into it. You have to do a taper.”
Environmental restrictions, particularly related to the river, made for slow going.
“The bridge spans the Chattahoochee River, and the National Park Trail system operates in the Chattahoochee corridor,” said said Leithead. “The National Park system uses the river for their own boats to access the water. We had to relocate the boat access. We had to consider structural issues The current bridge is wider than the old bridge, so it casts more shade on the river so we had to do a study on what impact, if any, the additional shade would have on the fish. Would it change the river temperature? Would it alter habitat? There are asterids growing on the riverbank. Asterids are a form of vegetation that only bloom once a year in October. The rest of the time you can’t tell the difference between the asterids and the weeds. So we had to wait until October for them to bloom to tell which were asterids and which were weeds and then relocate the asterids. The environmental concerns were complex. They caused the project to move slowly, but we got there. Developers are by nature impatient. We have to be patient.”
The completed half of the new bridge is now open to traffic, with a finish date set for late 2014.
The widening project from Paces Mill to Akers Mill roads involves burying utility lines where possible. When the lines can’t be buried, the poles will be replaced with taller poles and painted green to make them more attractive, Leithead said.
While it seems obvious the new roadwork played a big role in helping to lure the Braves to the new Cobb County site, there are other benefits from the construction as well, Leithead said.
“The transportation projects make a huge improvement to traffic and thereby make a huge improvement in congestion,” Leithead said. “By reducing congestion, that makes people more inclined to relocate from a place where there is more congestion.”
The U.S. 41 project is on the fast track to be completed in time for the Braves’ first pitch in spring 2017 — up from the original completion date of later that year.
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