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Gwinnett Braves: Officials to create water, traffic plans

LAWRENCEVILLE - Mary Estes can see herself spending summer days with her son at Gwinnett's newest attraction, a baseball stadium set to open next year.

What she can't picture, she said, is how she will be able to get to the Buford Drive field without spending hours in traffic.

"In a way it's exciting. In a way, you pause and say, 'Yikes,' Estes said. "We love the Atlanta Braves and we're excited (the minor league team will) be here, and then we think, 75 home games at rush hour."

That's a question that has come up in letters to the editor and to commissioners since an announcement last week that the Class AAA Gwinnett Braves would play in a 10,000-seat stadium north of Lawrenceville beginning in 2009.

"We have 15 months to come up with a good transportation plan," said Bert Nasuti, the

commissioner who led the drive for the minor league team. "We have to plan for those issues and make them better."

Preston Williams, the director of the Arena at Gwinnett Center who is spearheading construction for the $45 million stadium, said traffic and water issues are at the forefront as the engineering begins.

Water and roads

For the current historic drought in Georgia as well as concerns about water in the future, Williams said the design team will consider using waterless urinals and low-flow toilets as well as gray water, if it makes sense.

For most stadiums, irrigation of the field is the biggest water use, and Williams said he is exploring possibilities of recycling water in a retention pond or in an underground tank. The lawns at the convention center, Williams said, aren't getting watered now, but when they do, it is with water from the pond on the site.

Williams said traffic plans could also take a lesson from the 5-year-old arena, which draws more cars than are expected at the stadium.

The 72 home games are likely to be off the peak shopping hours that clog Ga. Highway 20 near the Mall of Georgia. Plus, he said, the location between Rock Springs Road and Old Peachtree Road allows several entries with Tech Center Parkway.

Several projects already in the works could help the traffic flow in the area, said Deputy Transportation Director Alan Chapman.

Those include a state project to convert turn lanes and create a third through lane on Ga. 20 on both sides of the road in front of the mall and a local project to improve the highway's intersection with Old Peachtree, just south of the stadium.

Chapman said a traffic study would be done to determine other ways to improve traffic, and the county would seek state help, since Buford Drive is a state highway right next to an interstate.

Take the bus

Nasuti said he also wanted to make sure the county's transit system is worked into the traffic plan.

The Peachtree Corners man said he would like to catch a bus at one of the county's three park and ride lots to take his children to the stadium. Another location could be set up at the mall, he added.

But Estes said she doesn't think the bus is a good idea for families with young children, since taking strollers and coolers would make getting on and off the bus unmanageable.

Only once, she said, did her family take a shuttle bus to Suwanee's Town Center Park because of the problems loading and unloading.

But the buses may be a good solution for the traffic, especially with a large new church and a school under construction down the road, officials said.

"We may be able to handle all that (traffic). I'm just really conflicted," said Estes, who said she's glad to see family friendly entertainment near her Lawrenceville home. "It's really interesting to have something so public in a residential area."

Nasuti said he thinks the traffic concerns can be solved before the stadium opens, especially after learning big lessons in the first few big shows at the arena.

Upcoming moves

For now, the issues are being studied and the design is beginning, said Williams, who said he hopes to have a conceptual design in a couple of weeks and a ground breaking in a month.

The stadium construction, he said, would be handled in a design-build manner, which is the most expedient since the stadium must be complete for games in April 2009.

Tuesday, commissioners will consider implementing a 3 percent tax on rental cars, which is expected to raise about $500,000 to pay off part of $33 million in bonds being sold for the stadium.

Another move Tuesday will give county staffers the authority to move forward on the plans, including transferring the $12 million in recreation property taxes assigned to the project, which will be located at 2500 Buford Drive, south of the Mall of Georgia and Interstate 85 near Rock Springs Road.