Interstate collapse complicates Braves' stadium debut

ATLANTA (AP) Widespread warnings about the effect of the collapse of a section of an interstate in Atlanta convinced many fans to arrive early for the Braves' first game at SunTrust Park.

Many also followed the advice to avoid congested interstates and take back roads.

Tim Knowles, who lives in Fairburn, an Atlanta suburb, said his drive to Friday night's exhibition against the New York Yankees took 30 to 40 minutes.

Knowles said he drove less-traveled roads ''because I knew how the interstate was going to be.''

Atlanta drivers are accustomed to horrible rush-hour drives, especially on Friday. The start of spring break for many students, including in Cobb County, the new home of the Braves, was expected to add more congestion even before the elevated section of Interstate 85 collapsed Thursday because of a raging fire underneath.

The Georgia Department of Transportation says the affected area of I-85 will be closed in both directions ''for the foreseeable future'' as repairs are made.

Vicky Artelli, who lives near I-85 in Lawrenceville, accepted the new traffic woes with a shrug as she waited for the start of the game.

''It's just more traffic, that's all,'' Artelli said. ''It's going to affect us.''

The new stadium is located near the interchange of I-75 and I-285 in the northern Atlanta suburbs. Traffic from the closed area of I-85 will be directed away from that highway to other interstates, including those flanking the new stadium.

Only season-ticket holders were invited to Friday night's game. Braves officials were expecting a turnout of about 20,000 at the stadium, which holds 41,000.

Even before the interstate collapse, the Braves expected traffic congestion on Friday as fans traveled to the ballpark for the first time and found their way to parking lots.

In a statement Friday, the Braves encouraged fans to adjust plans before leaving for the game.

''Traffic patterns in Atlanta will be adjusted for everyone, so please listen to local authorities as they direct you around the metro area,'' the statement said. ''Also, we encourage all fans to purchase their parking before they leave today.''

Josh Battles said he drove from south Georgia in 3+ hours by completely avoiding interstates.

''We took back roads,'' said Battles, who is from Bainbridge. ''It wasn't bad at all.''

Paul Pagnato, wearing a Yankees cap, flew to Atlanta from Virginia for the game and said the drive from the airport south of Atlanta ''wasn't bad.''

''We had no issues,'' Pagnato said.

Traffic also was no concern for Teri Hogan, who said she ''specifically moved to walk to the stadium.''

The Braves' first regular-season home game is April 14 against the San Diego Padres. They open the regular season on Monday at the New York Mets.

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