WATERVILLE — Construction of a $6 million interchange for exiting and entering Interstate 95 at Trafton Road near the Sidney town line could start as early as next year.
The interchange is proposed by Trafton Realty LLC, which owns 921 acres off Trafton Road in both Waterville and Sidney and houses Mid-State Machine and other businesses in its building at the corner of Trafton and West River roads.
The interchange proposal has been years in the making. A similar project was developed by the city and state Department of Transportation in the mid-1980s and received federal approval in 1987, as well as funding from the transportation department. But the interchange was never built because people at the time disagreed on location and the funding was lost.
John Melrose, senior consultant for Eaton Peabody Consulting Group LLC of Augusta, said the current interchange proposal, initiated in 2010, is in the review stage with the federal Highway Administration and the state transportation department. More than a year ago, those agencies gave conditional approval to a report justifying why the interchange should be built, and now it is in the environmental review process, according to Melrose.
The purpose of the interchange would be to help improve regional mobility, ease traffic flow on Kennedy Memorial Drive, improve transportation in the area to complement support of existing land, water, sewer, electric and natural gas investments south of Kennedy Memorial Drive and expand freight and passenger transportation connectivity.
According to the project’s purpose and needs statement, the interchange would address traffic congestion forecast for the I-95 interchange at Kennedy Memorial Drive, minimize emergency response times for vehicles going to the new hospital in Augusta and maximize truck freight traffic onto I-95 and off secondary roads.
Public meetings are expected to be held this year so that people may comment and ask questions about the project. Melrose estimates those meetings will start in the spring or summer.
The Trafton Properties Inc. building at the corner of Trafton and West River Roads is less than a mile from where the interchange would be built. The 227,000-square-foot industrial building years ago housed the Wyandotte Mill, a wool manufacturing facility, and now is 100 percent occupied, not only with Mid-State Machine, but also other tenants in manufacturing, warehousing and distribution, according to Harry Kojoian, vice president of operations for Trafton Properties.
Harry Kojoian said Friday that the hope is to construct two additional buildings on Trafton Road that would increase the light manufacturing space by 450,000 square feet.
“Our goal is to build upon the success we’ve had at the Waterville Trafton complex,” Kojoian said. “That’s really been our focus.”
Melrose said the transportation department proposes to pay for a third of the cost, or about $2 million, for building the interchange, while Trafton Realty would pay for another third of the cost, and funding is being sought for the final third.
Officials have discussed the possibility of getting that final funding through a tax increment financing plan, or TIF, with the city, or through other means.
“Ultimately, we’re working with the city manager and his staff to come up with how could this be achieved, and this is very much a work in progress at this moment,” Melrose said.
City Manager Michael Roy said no decision has been made on the city’s part to help fund the interchange project. The only way the city could contribute is through a TIF, Roy said.
“It’s the only possibility, but there’s been no decision of any kind at this point to create a TIF for that area,” he said.
Darryl Sterling, executive director of the Central Maine Growth Council, supports the interchange project. Sterling said recently that it would not only help alleviate traffic congestion and increase traffic safety, but also help spur development and create jobs. He said his organization is ready to help in that regard.
“It’s that teamwork approach, and the Growth Council will help fill any needs that the city or Trafton Properties may need,” he said.
Meanwhile, Kojoian said the interchange project is moving along well.
“I’ve got to give credit to Trafton Properties for financing most of the soft costs to bring it to this point,” he said. “And we really enjoy the public-private partnership we have with DOT, the city of Waterville and neighbors. We just hope the success continues over the next year or so.”