Cobb County plans to direct game-day traffic for the new Braves stadium off I-285 and onto local streets at Northside Drive, an idea that drew shock and outrage from the Sandy Springs City Council on June 21.

A Google Earth map of the I-285/Northside Drive area of Sandy Springs where Cobb County wants to route SunTrust Park stadium traffic.
A Google Earth map of the I-285/Northside Drive area of Sandy Springs where Cobb County wants to route SunTrust Park stadium traffic.

“This was our nightmare,” said a visibly angry Mayor Rusty Paul, blasting the plan and saying Cobb County leaders have not returned his calls for traffic management planning. He demanded that Cobb leaders “get everybody in a room real fast…We’ve got to figure out some alternative to this.”

Two days later, Paul and Cobb County Chairman Tim Lee met to talk about the traffic plan, according to a jointly issued press release.

The news was delivered in a non-voting council work session by Jim Wilgus, Cobb’s interim transportation director. The specific topic was permission to install directional signs for the Braves’ SunTrust Park and related Battery Atlanta commercial development, which are slated to open early next year in Cobb’s Cumberland area at I-285 and I-75.

Then Wilgus dropped his bombshell: On days of games and other big events, the signs—with “dynamic” messages that change on the fly—would direct stadium-goers to get off highways one exit before Cumberland and use local streets. On 285, that exit is Sandy Springs’ Northside Drive, and traffic would route onto Powers Ferry Road and Interstate North Parkway, known locally as the “access road.” Cobb wants to put one of the signs on Powers Ferry near the Chattahoochee River.

Wilgus said the idea is to lessen congestion on highways. Mayor Paul and councilmembers noted that means increasing congestion on local streets.

“You want to take all the traffic off 285 and put it on surface streets?” asked an incredulous Councilmember Tibby DeJulio.

“That’s what we want to do all over the system,” Wilgus replied.

Wilgus fenced with the mayor and councilmembers over definitions of street types and hypothetical traffic impacts.

“You can’t run these [sign-directed drivers] through neighborhood streets,” Paul said.

“We’re not running them through neighborhood streets…Interstate North is not really a neighborhood street,” Wilgus said.

“I live there, so you don’t tell me that it’s not a neighborhood street,” the mayor said. “We live here. We know those streets.”

Some councilmembers noted that, once directed onto those roads, stadium traffic could be expected to starting cutting through even more side streets. Wilgus said the signs would avoid that, adding, “That’s not our intent, to run [traffic] through neighborhoods.”

“But that’s the plan,” Mayor Paul replied, while DeJulio added, “That’s not a plan. That’s a hope.”

The Braves’ move from Atlanta to Cobb was a secret deal announced in late 2013 and raised immediate traffic questions for the congested top end Perimeter. Bryant Poole, the city’s assistant manager for transportation, said Cobb’s traffic engineering staff has been meeting with his staff regularly, and Wilgus said that Cobb County Police will soon connect with their Sandy Springs counterpart for emergency response planning.

But, Paul said, big-picture, policy-level planning has been lacking. He said Cobb’s county manager and county chairman have not returned phone calls from him about traffic impacts.

“We’ve been trying for months to sit down with you people and work some of these issues out,” Paul said. “We’ve got alternative plans we’d like to see put in place. But we can’t get the time of day for you to come over here and sit down with us.”

Sandy Springs City Manager John McDonough raised another issue—a long-proposed idea of an improved version of the half-interchange of 285 and Powers Ferry on the Cobb side of the river. The city thinks it’s such a good idea, it has reserved $450,000 to fund a study itself, a move just awaiting Cobb’s approval. But, McDonough and other officials said, Cobb has not responded, and Wilgus could not say what the county currently thinks of the idea.

“That’s a top priority” for the city, the mayor said, adding that if Cobb wants Sandy Springs to even consider its signage plan, there must be “concrete accomplishments, not just talk” on the 285/Powers Ferry project.

As the discussion wound down, Mayor Paul apologized to Wilgus for some of his emotional heat—but not for the content of his reaction.

“I don’t like shooting the messenger,” the mayor said, “but you’re the one who showed up.”

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.

27 replies on “‘Nightmare’ plan to put Braves stadium traffic on Sandy Springs streets draws City Council outrage”

  1. BS,… Council knew of Cobb’s ideas to move the traffic thru Sandy Springs months ago with Aps, etc. Looks like the traffic circles being put up at Riverside drive have another purpose, eh? Paul’s outrage masks his ambition and intoxication with development..

  2. This is easy. Place SSPD officers on sight and only allow local addresses to access the road. SS does have control of it’s roads correct? Fight fire with fire.

    1. i suggested this when i ran for mayor .. sticker for lisc plates issued to residents only . allowing left turns for them but no cut thru . etc

  3. One punishment for Cobb would be to decide not to reward Cobb’s bad behavior by refusing to widen Hammond, the main effect of which would be to give all the C4’s (Cobb County Cutthrough Commuters) a newfound superhighway to come home from King & Queen and Pill Hill while leaving every man woman and child in SS with a $600 bill to assist Cobb commuters. (It’s a $60M project.) Let’s not forget what comes right after “Hammond Widening” in the dictionary…”Heards Ferry Widening.” Once the precedent is set by Hammond, GDOT will be salivating for Heards Ferry.

  4. So typical. Paul doesn’t mind destroying the livability of the Perimeter Mall area, but effect his personal space and now all of sudden he is concerned.

    1. Those of us dealing with the traffic congestion/parkinglot that is the Perimeter Center area just can’t wait for all those new apartments to fill up along Hammond/Peachtree Dunwoody. And now the Concourse wants to add more retail and office space, knocking down the few remaining trees in the area???

      Mr. Paul, back off the Perimeter development for a while and let’s see what happens when all these projects are completed. Take a traffic study then.

      Oh, and realize that if you widen Hammond and extend it to the west, that traffic is going to find its way to your neighborhood streets. And that’s on top of the Cobb Commuters using that new pavement – every day, twice a day.

  5. I think it may be time to move from 30328. I live directly in this impacted Neighborhood. The irony here is that it seems all the recent road projects in Sandy Springs have been about making it easier for the Cobb Commuters. Abernathy, Riverside at Abernathy, River Valley. Now we have traffic circles (!) under construction at Riverside plus looking down the barrel of a widening of Hammond Drive. Not to mention all the development approved in the 400 corridor to bring even more commuters through! I have lost any hope for what the city may do next.

    The Chattahoochee park on Interstate North will be unreachable on these game nights. Averaging 4 home games a week in the summer.

    My “Boycott the Braves” signs are coming but will not help the cause. Look for me out being a PEDS Pace Car on game nights, going the speed limit, holding up traffic and making them think about alternate routes to games.

    1. Or, I may come out to assist in crossing turtles,snakes, ducks, lady bugs or any other Chattanooga wild life, across said streets. That should put a damper on some plans.

  6. What a crock. Maybe the SSPD should close the Northside exits to local traffic only on game days.

  7. Joe Cool–

    Your idea re: SSPD enforcement is common sense but since half of Sandy springs has repeatedly begged in every available forum for “Don’t block the box” enforcement at rush hour (a program that would so thoroughly pay for itself 100x over that City Springs would actually be paid off before it’s even finished!), I wouldn’t hold my breath.

    I realize that the city is in the habit of running ridiculous $10 million+ surpluses and may not even care about money, but laws should be enforced. Either way we end up with more money and/or safer roads…who is against that? I guess the City Council?

    Mr. Burnett are you listening? Can you please make your first act up on stage to ask for greater block the box enforcement and actually make sure it happens with no mealy mouthed excuses from the others? Go get an early and easy win for District 3!

  8. Now Paul might understand, perhaps, how horrible it has been inside the perimeter, Roswell road, Windsor Parkway, Meadowbrook, Westfield Park, etc. with this crazy expansion, road system, closing of roads, building a huge city hall, too many stores, tearing down affordable apartments, displacing families, etc. And still not one additional neighborhood park or restaurant.
    Our neighbors turned against us just because we were trying to get out of the neighborhood, when Windsor was closed for months.

  9. What’s the story on the project at Riverside x 285?? I’ve always been impressed at how well that simple intersection seems to work handling a substantial load of traffic. Now they plan to spend millions on it?? A “magic” converging diamond bridge with a huge roundabout on each end? Why?

  10. When the new stadium was announced, I predicted that one day there will be hearings on how this was allowed to go forward. This development is one step closer to that happening. The gridlock ripple will extend way beyond Sandy Springs, across the top end and to I-20 west, Buckhead and 575. When seeking an explanation for how something this hairbrained could happen, you can be sure it was fueled by money secretly changing hands. No amount of money or jail time can remedy this. The stadium needs to be torn down.

  11. I have read all these comments and completely understand why they are being made. As chair of the Sandy Springs Planning Commission for 10 years and now chair of the Next 10 Advisory Committee I have long advocated that we have to plan with our adjacent communities. We have yet to have one sit down with Roswell, Brookhaven, or Cobb County. We did have some conversations through third parties with Brookhaven regarding a zoning case near the boundaries of Sandy Springs and Brookhaven. I am aware of another similar conversation with City of Atlanta on a case just north of Wieuca Road. I was able to finally get a member of the Planning Commission access to the Perimeter Community Improvement District meetings. I might add that we were told staff was participating in those meetings which we found to not be the case. I have tried on several occasions to get a seat at the table for at the Braves planning team for a representative from Sandy Springs to no avail. Regardless, these kind of issues are regional in nature and cannot be solved in a vacuum. Our leadership has to be proactive and insist on these conversations be conducted not 9 months in advance, but years in advance. We seem to be ready taking the approach “out of site out of mind” too often and it will surely come back to compromise the lifestyle we currently enjoy. With growth comes the challenges of supporting that growth which requires leadership.

    1. Mr. Duncan, you are right on the money. These problems are regional yet it seems voters in the Atlanta area don’t want to admit that. We create more and more local governments yet fail to address region-wide issues like traffic, which is only going to get worse. Our distaste for mass transit is coming back to haunt us as we waste hours and hours of our lives stuck in traffic with all the stress that entails. The metro area is rapidly approaching a tipping point in terms of traffic.

  12. See, as an intown Fulton resident, I am just so happy that all of that Braves traffic will be north of town. Cobb County wanted the Braves, you get all that comes with it. Sitting back with popcorn here, waiting for opening day…

    1. You are right, Cobb County wanted the stadium and deserves all that comes with it. Sandy Springs, however, is in Fulton County.

  13. As a resident of Sandy Springs for approximately 30 years, it has been very exciting watching our wonderful City grow. However, I do not understand, with all the many complaints and fears expressed about traffic (especially recently) why we have elected City officials who WILL NOT LISTEN. The previous post about the Mayor becoming really upset when it approached HIS neighborhood, but not seeming to really care about the rest of us, really hits home.

  14. Well, isn’t that the purpose of making Hammond Drive wider – move the Cobb County and Braves traffic right through the heart of Sandy Springs. If Cobb County could pave all of Sandy Springs they would think it just fine.

  15. Mr. Paul claims that he was surprised by this plan but it’s something that he actually knew about and asked for!

    AJC Political Insider updated their story this afternoon with the actual PDF of the letter where Mr. Paul didn’t just not know about it, he was actually asking for it!

    Look at the PDF about halfway down this page for the signed letter:

    The whole thing made me think of that Casablanca Scene:
    “I’m shocked, *shocked* to find gambling going on here!”


  16. Boo hoo. Decades of Cobb & North Fulton residents clogging the downtown connector on game days, filling my Grant Park streets… Welcome to the Braves, baby!

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