By Nikki Wiley – MDJ Online.com The Marietta Daily Journal
October 10, 2013 12:00 AM
TOWN CENTER — Designed as a bridge between academia and business, the Skip Spann Connector broke ground Monday. Officials say it will be a monument to a man who worked to fuel growth in the north Cobb suburbs.
The $17.8 million project, which will create a bridge between Frey Road and Busbee Drive over Interstate 75, is expected to open by mid-2015.
It will continue to Townpark Lane connecting Kennesaw State University and the Towne Park business center.
An additional off-ramp from I-75 north at Chastain Road will be constructed from Busbee Drive. Another ramp off I-75 south will connect directly to Frey Road without merging traffic onto Chastain Road.
That’s expected to reduce traffic on Chastain Road as much as 19 percent.
“This is a design that serves the community, but it’s also a gateway to the community,” said Mason Zimmerman, board chairman for the Town Center Area Community Improvement District, a self-taxing district that includes the area of the bridge.
Students from KSU, Southern Polytechnic State University and Chattahoochee Technical College designed the appearance of the bridge that will mimic the silhouette of Kennesaw Mountain’s twin peaks. Engineers designed its infrastructure.
Bike lanes and a pedestrian sidewalk will also be included.
The bridge’s namesake, the late Thomas E. “Skip” Spann, is credited with leveraging $27 million into $106 million worth of local, state and federal funds to improve the Town Center area, said Cobb Chairman Tim Lee. He died in August 2012.
Spann was the founding chairman of the Town Center Area CID and manager of the Town Center at Cobb mall, and the name just made sense, said Zimmerman.
Ilyene Spann, who was married to Skip for 54 years, grabbed a ceremonial shovel Monday standing next to Cobb officials to break ground on the connector. She said her husband was alive when the county announced its intention to name the connector after him and was excited by the news.
Ilyene Spann said she can’t wait to drive on the bridge named after her husband.
“It’s a great legacy for our family to know the Skip Spann Connector will always be there,” she said.
Zimmerman said his passion helped drive the Town Center community.
“It could not be named the Busbee-Frey connector,” Zimmerman said. “It had to be the Skip Spann Connector. Literally a bridge. It had to be that way.”
The idea for the connection originated from talks between Cobb government officials, the CID and KSU.
“We needed to take traffic off Chastain,” said Lanie Shipp, executive director of the CID.
Commuters and KSU’s 25,000 students share the road that brings motorists from I-75 to U.S. 41 passing the university’s campus. That creates heavy congestion during morning and afternoon peak travel times.
“That’s like a whole city and a lot of that is pulled from the north,” Shipp said, referring to KSU’s student population and 3,000 employees.
KSU President Dan Papp expects the project will benefit more than just students. Papp called it a “marvel” of teamwork, saying it will help drive economic development in the surrounding area that includes the Town Center at Cobb mall.
Town Center Area CID fronted the $1.5 million bill for preliminary engineering and design work conducted by Marietta-based Croy Engineering and Netherlands-based Arcadis. The construction portion has not been placed out for bid yet and no firm has been selected to complete the work.
The Cobb Department of Transportation is also contributing $5 million, about $10.6 million will come from the Georgia Department of Transportation and another $700,000 will be provided by KSU.
Construction is expected to take two years.
Commissioner Helen Goreham, who represents the area, called the project a “huge positive” and said it’s noteworthy that the concept was created and made into a reality during the Great Recession.
Read more: The Marietta Daily Journal - Ground broken on long awaited connector