Sandy Springs’ first taste of Braves stadium traffic on March 31 was a problem-free “success,” city officials say. But they also note it was a restricted-attendance exhibition game held amid the I-85 collapse disaster that made all traffic go haywire anyway.
The real test is yet to come, with SunTrust Park’s sold-out Opening Day game on April 14, the officials said at the April 4 City Council meeting.
“There were no issues we were aware of,” said Bryant Poole, the assistant city manager overseeing traffic and streets, in an informal report to the council. “We deem it a success.”
Mayor Rusty Paul said he attended the game and the biggest problems he saw were inside the ball park, with light and concession check-out malfunctions. “It’s a great facility,” he said.
“I felt very good about what I saw,” the mayor said of traffic, adding it passed the ultimate test: “I didn’t get a single email about it.” He noted the exhibition game attendance was about 21,000—around half the stadium’s capacity and roughly the attendance expected for a typical ballgame.
The city has braced for what the mayor has predicted will be early traffic “disaster” before stadium-goers adjust. For the exhibition game, Sandy Springs Police officers were stationed at key intersections, and signs were posted in the Powers Ferry Landing area on the Cobb County border–about 1.5 miles away from the stadium–to direct drivers off side streets and onto I-285.
Paul said the police officers “were doing what could be the best outcome. They were sitting in their cars.” He said Perimeter traffic was moving faster than side-street traffic, which he hoped stadium-goers would pick up on. “That’s a good lesson, too: Don’t get off and start wandering around surface streets,” he said.
However, Poole noted the huge X-factor in judging traffic that day: the I-85 collapse the night before, which sent every commuter scrambling for alternative routes and made traffic unpredictable. “At 1:30, 285 was already gridlock,” Poole noted.
The city has rolled out a program of traffic-counting at various intersections on game days and non-game days to get hard data on the stadium’s effects or lack thereof. Separating freak effects like the I-85 collapse from stadium impacts is one reason for the data-collection.
The I-85 situation will continue to be an X-factor. The highway is expected to be rebuilt in about 10 weeks—long after Opening Day and the stadium’s first rock concert.
One other SunTrust Park event is coming before Opening Day: a University of Georgia baseball game on Saturday, April 8. Poole said city officials expect that game to be “much more low-key” and the police will reduce their staffing in the area for it.