WATERVILLE — The public will have a chance on May 8 to comment on a proposed $6 million interchange for entering and exiting Interstate 95 at Trafton Road, near the Sidney town line.
Construction of the interchange, proposed by Trafton Realty LLC, could start as soon as next year if it can be fully funded. The interchange would be around mile marker 124 on the interstate — three miles south of exit 127, which connects with Kennedy Memorial Drive in Waterville and Oakland, and four miles north of exit 120 for Lyons Road in Sidney.
The state Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration on April 1 approved an environmental assessment of the project for public comment and the public has 30 days to comment on the plan, according to Darryl Belz, a department project engineer.
The environmental assessment shows that the project’s road construction would affect 1.4 acres of wetland and about 2.6 acres of farmland.
Belz, as well as Cassandra Chase of the Federal Highway Administration, will discuss the proposal at the public meeting, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. May 8 at Spann Student Commons Summit Room at Thomas College at 180 West River Road.
Belz said the interchange construction is estimated to cost $4.7 million, with Trafton paying for the remaining design costs and permitting fees. The design probably would take 12 to 18 months.
A third of the construction cost would be paid by Trafton, a third by the state and a third by the city of Waterville.
The City Council would make the final decision about whether Waterville will help fund the interchange construction. If the city declines, money would have to be found another way.
“Until the funding becomes available, the project will not move forward,” Belz said.
City Manager Michael Roy said Waterville could afford to fund its one-third share only through tax increment financing.
“I think, really, that’s our only possible financing vehicle at this point in time,” Roy said. “It certainly is possible the city would borrow money, but it’s really not likely.”
Trafton, the developer, owns 921 acres off Trafton Road in Waterville and Sidney and houses Mid-State Machine and other businesses in its building at the corner of Trafton and West River Roads.
A report the interchange’s construction got conditional approval from the state transportation department and Federal Highway Administration more than a year ago.
Proponents of the interchange say it would 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. Officials also say it would address traffic congestion forecast for the I-95 interchange at Kennedy Memorial Drive, minimize emergency response times for vehicles going to MaineGeneral Medical Center’s Alfond Center for Health in Augusta, and maximize diversion of truck freight traffic onto I-95 and off secondary roads.
Some critics of the plan, including Waterville residents who have written letters to the editor published in the Morning Sentinel, say they’re concerned about increased traffic in a quiet, rural setting.
Traffic on that area of I-95 averages about 13,500 cars each day going north and south, according to the environmental assessment.
The 227,000-square-foot Trafton Properties Inc. industrial building at the corner of Trafton and West River roads, which houses tenants in manufacturing, warehousing and distribution, is less than a mile from where the interchange would be built. Years ago, the building housed the Wyandotte woolen mill.
Harry Kojoian, vice president of operations of Trafton Properties, said recently that his company hopes to construct two more buildings on Trafton Road that would increase the light manufacturing space by 450,000 square feet.
Roy, the Waterville city manager, said he supports the interchange project. With a full industrial facility, Trafton has shown it can entice businesses to the area and provide jobs, and an interchange could foster more of the types of businesses Trafton houses now, Roy said.
The city has few opportunities to expand its tax base, and this would be a way to do that, according to Roy.
“The city of Waterville’s desire to grow to the south of (Kennedy Memorial Drive) is likely to be constrained under Maine’s traffic movement law unless viable traffic capacity improvements are instituted,” the environmental assessment states.
Belz said the May 8 meeting will start with a PowerPoint presentation, and then the public can ask questions.
“I think it’s a very, very important project in helping the city to expand its tax base,” he said.
The assessment is available for public review at City Hall, the Waterville Public Library, the Sidney Town Office, the state Department of Transportation library in Augusta and the Maine State Library. It also is available online at the state transportation department website.
Public comments can be made at the May 8 meeting; written comments may be sent to Belz at Bureau of Planning, 16 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333-0016; or [email protected]
Comments may be sent to Chase at Edmund S. Muskie Federal Building, 40 Western Ave., Room 614, Augusta, ME 04330; or [email protected]