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Braves bridge opening may be delayed

A bridge meant to ensure Braves fans can walk safely to SunTrust Park without impeding traffic might not be ready before the end of the team’s first season in Cobb County.

The 1,100-foot bridge, which is meant to help fans walking or riding a circulator bus to the games from remote parking areas, likely won’t be completed until September 2017 — five months later than county officials originally planned, according to a document obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through Georgia’s Open Records Act.

The county has consistently said the goal was to have the bridge open in time for the first pitch at SunTrust Park, in April 2017.

The bridge — along with the planned circulator bus system that is expected to cost $1.7 million a year to operate — is considered critical by the Atlanta Regional Commission, which reviewed the Braves stadium and entertainment district last year as a Development of Regional Impact.

The report says that the accuracy of the Braves traffic study is “highly dependent” on the bridge and circulator.

“If the pedestrian bridge is not in place and circulator buses are not present, approximately 16,000 people … will be required to cross Cobb Parkway to access the site, and the resulting traffic delays associated with these pedestrian movements are not reflected in the traffic study, thus rendering many … estimates invalid, ” the report says.

Sold-out games at SunTrust Park are expected to put an additional 25,000 cars on roads around the stadium, according to the traffic study.

Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee was emailed multiple questions related to the bridge project this week. His spokeswoman replied that the AJC’s questions were “technical” and that Lee “was not involved at this level.” She referred the questions to the county manager and DOT director — both of whom were copied on the emails — and said Lee would comment after he receives the final recommendations for the project this fall.

“Pedestrian safety is paramount and it will carefully addressed,” the spokeswoman said.

Cobb DOT Director Faye DiMassimo said she was too busy to address the newspaper’s questions until Wednesday. DiMassimo made a bridge presentation to commissioners Tuesday, and was scheduled to make a similar presentation to the Cobb Galleria Centre board Wednesday morning.

The commission had a scheduled vote on the bridge’s preliminary design Tuesday night. The design needs to be approved so the project can proceed to final engineering.

Braves spokeswoman Beth Marshall said in a statement that the team is making contingency plans, but did not specify what they are.

“We are optimistic that the bridge will be completed by opening day of 2017, but we are planning for all contingencies,” the statement says. “Fortunately, we have 20 months to prepare, and will continue to work with the county, our partners in the development and area landowners to ensure that there is adequate parking and safe travel to SunTrust Park for our fans before the first pitch is thrown.”

Commissioner Bob Ott said Tuesday that he is concerned about the bridge schedule.

“If indeed that is the timeline, it raises concerns about the first year and how pedestrians will safety get over to the stadium,” Ott said. “Are there contingency plans to deal with that first year?

“Somehow, the safe passage of people going in and out of the stadium has to be addressed. The current setup of sidewalks and crosswalks is not sufficient. That is the most critical thing that needs to be addressed.”

Ott said he planned to vote “no” on the bridge’s preliminary design Tuesday night because “I have a problem with voting the same day we get our presentation on it.”

The county has not updated its $9 million cost estimate, despite its contractor working on the project since April. The AJC has previously reported that the county’s estimate is for construction costs only and does not include things such as moving utilities, buying land for right-of-way, or the $804,000 being paid to the contractor.

Outside bridge experts have previously expressed skepticism to the newspaper that the county can even construct the bridge for $9 million.

And now there’s a new expense: the top level of the parking garage, to which the bridge will connect, will have to be reinforced to support the circulator bus, according to documents reviewed by the newspaper.

The deck needs to be strengthened to support the buses that will drive across it to access the bridge, the document says. It does not specify what materials will be used or how much it will cost, but it is clearly an unexpected development.

“The design team has concerns that the existing parking deck is not adequately designed to handle the heavier loads of the transit vehicle and therefore enhancements to the deck are required,” says minutes of a meeting between the county, its contractors and Galleria Centre staff.

County taxpayers will be responsible for at least half of the bridge’s cost.

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