Officials from the Georgia Department of Transportation and a Cobb County transportation expert spoke at the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods May 11 meeting, focusing on the quick reconstruction of I-85 and mild traffic congestion near SunTrust Park, and what those two major traffic factors mean for the future of transit.

SunTrust Park traffic and the speed of I-85 repairs were much better than anticipated by Tom Tidwell, the chairman of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, and a representative of the Garden Hills neighborhood said they appreciate GDOT’s fast work and prioritization of the project.

Traffic heading west on the Perimeter toward the new SunTrust Park in the distance from Sandy Springs’ New Northside Drive interchange was lighter than a Friday rush hour norm. This photo was taken around 6 p.m. on the Braves Opening Day, April 14, 90 minutes before game time. (Phil Mosier)

“I think I can speak for my neighborhood in saying that I know it was expensive, but it was well worth the effort,” Jeff Clark said at the meeting held at Peachtree Presbyterian Church on Roswell Road.

Stacey Key, the GDOT board member representing Congressional District 5, which covers the area where I-85 collapsed, said public transit will become a key issue in upcoming Georgia legislative sessions and that the collapse has caused people to rethink Atlanta’s transportation needs.

“If we don’t think we need transit now, I don’t know what it’s going to take,” Key said.

Tidwell said he believes public transit is the only answer in fixing traffic woes, specifically on I-285.

“I don’t see how anybody could conceive a solution that talks about adding more cars,” Tidwell said.

Gordon Certain, the president of the North Buckhead Civic Association, asked why CobbLinc, Cobb County’s public transit system, hasn’t added bus routes through Buckhead.

“The Cobb County transit system takes people from Cobb County to Downtown, and then they ride MARTA back up to Buckhead for their jobs. It doesn’t make any sense,” said Certain, who also serves as the secretary for the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods.

Ron Sifen, a community advocate who serves on several Cobb County boards, including the Transit System Advisory Board and the Braves Task Force, said the city of Atlanta and Cobb County will have to allow Cobb County to use city roads and stop at agreed upon places, a process that takes negotiation. But adding direct public transit from Cobb to Buckhead is on the county’s radar, Sifen said.

Another resident said, “When is Cobb going to join rail and stop clogging our streets with buses?” Sifen responded that, when it’s been proposed in the past, the county determined it would have no way to pay for the maintenance or construction of rail lines, which were estimated to cost $30 million to maintain each year while the county’s entire transit budget is $20 million.

Cobb County’s lack of MARTA has been in the spotlight recently as Braves games began at the new SunTrust Park stadium, but traffic problems have been mild compared to many’s expectations.

“It’s remarkable that the traffic is so much better than, at least I, anticipated, in both respects,” Tidwell said of the I-85 collapse and Braves traffic.

Sifen said SunTrust Park surpassed his expectations as well, which were already high.

“I’ve been predicting for two years traffic would not be as bad as people thought, but it’s even better than I thought it was going to be,” Sifen said.

The pedestrian bridges are what he credits with making traffic better than he anticipated, along with multiple stadium access points and parking decks that are located around the stadium, rather than concentrated in one direction like at Turner Field.

The decision to move the game start time to 7:35 p.m. allows visitors to avoid 30 percent of rush hour traffic that they would drive through if the start time was 20 minutes earlier, Sifen said.

There are a few areas that are heavily congested, but, overall, traffic around the stadium is moving smoothly, Stifen said, a sentiment that is echoed in a letter from Jim Wilgus, the director of the Cobb County Department of Transportation, who could not attend the meeting but sent thoughts on traffic to the council.

“I would not say that there are problems [sic] spots, but there are locations that we monitor, generally localized around the ballpark itself,” Wilgus said in the letter, adding that the department is pleased with how traffic is flowing around the stadium.

The rerouted I-85 traffic exacerbated concerns about commuters cutting through neighborhood streets, and the city of Atlanta installed “no thru traffic” signs around several neighborhoods in Buckhead to help. Nursef Kedir, the city of Atlanta senior traffic manager, reiterated previous city statements that the signs will be coming down once the bridge is reopened, and added that they are not enforceable.

“They are nice to have, but they are not enforceable so they will be coming down,” Kedir said of the signs, to no objection from the Buckhead residents attending the meeting.