WATERVILLE — People who live near the site of a proposed $6 million interchange for entering and exiting Interstate 95 at Trafton Road deluged state and federal officials with questions and concerns about the project Thursday night.
More than 60 people packed the Spann Student Commons Summit Room at Thomas College for the hearing, hosted by the state Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration.
The hearing’s purpose was to get public comment on an environmental assessment that the DOT and federal Highway Administration on April 1 approved for public comment. The public has until May 22 to make oral or written comments on the assessment. If permits and other requirements are approved, construction could start next year on the interchange.
The interchange is proposed by Trafton Realty LLC and would be constructed around mile marker 124 on I-95, about three miles south of exit 127, which connects with Kennedy Memorial Drive in Waterville and Oakland. It would be about four miles north of exit 120, which links to Lyons Road in Sidney.
Trafton owns 921 acres off Trafton Road in Waterville and Sidney and houses Mid-State Machine and other businesses in its 227,000-square-foot building at the corner of Trafton and West River roads.
Trafton wants to expand its capacity by building two more structures on Trafton Road. The construction would increase its manufacturing space by 450,000-square-feet for distribution, light manufacturing and warehousing.
But neighbors of the proposed development said they do not want such an interchange, which would disrupt their peaceful rural lifestyle. They complained about increased truck traffic, noise and interruption of wildlife habitats.
Susan MacKenzie, of Trafton Road, said there are bobolinks and Eastern meadowlarks nesting in the area.
“I want to make that point because these are two species that are declining in numbers nationwide because they’re losing habitats,” she said.
She added that some residents have chosen to live on large pieces of property in that area because of the beauty and quiet, and they pay significant taxes for that lifestyle. People walk, bicycle and cross-country ski there, and it is safe, she said. She also said there is a blind spot on Trafton Road, and with no improvements planned for the road, she fears a fatality will occur.
“I’m really concerned if this is going to move forward,” she said. “There are no improvements to the Trafton Road. That really frightens me.”
Proponents of the interchange project say it would help improve regional mobility, ease traffic flow on Kennedy Memorial Drive and improve transportation in the area to complement support of existing water, sewer, electric and natural gas investments south of Kennedy Memorial Drive.
It also would expand freight and passenger transportation connectivity, address traffic congestion at the Kennedy Memorial Drive interchange, minimize emergency response time to MaineGeneral’s Alfond Center for Health in Augusta and maximize diversion of freight truck traffic onto I-95 and off secondary roads, proponents say.
But some people at the meeting Thursday said the main objective of the interchange is to benefit Trafton, a Rhode Island company.
Nancy Saucier, of Eight Rod Road, asked who paid for the environmental assessment and interstate justification report. Darryl Belz, project engineer for the DOT’s Bureau of Planning, who moderated the meeting, said Trafton Properties paid for them, with oversight by the DOT and Federal Highway Administration.
Saucier asked whether Trafton was donating 24 acres to the project, to which John Melrose, a consultant for the project, said it is.
Some people argued that state and federal officials should have conducted their own studies instead of merely reviewing studies funded by Trafton.
Peter Madigan said he lives in the city’s center but came to the meeting because he had a friend there. He said is the project calls for no improvements or minimal improvements to roads near the project.
“This thing is designed for one purpose only — to aid the landowner (Trafton),” he said.
He disputed the idea that the purpose of building the interchange was to ease traffic congestion on Kennedy Memorial Drive, calling that argument a red herring.
“There’s no thru traffic from here,” he said. “It’s only one landowner. It doesn’t make sense. I’d like to get into the financing on this, too.”
He was referring to questions Brad Sherwood asked about just who owns Trafton Properties, which he said is owned by American Capital.
“I’d like to know who owns American Capital,” he said, adding that he wants to know what kind of money the company has.
“Tonight’s meeting is to comment on the environmental assessment, not on the finances of the developer,” Belz replied.
Sherwood was not appeased.
“Who are we dealing with?” he asked. “We should know who we’re dealing with.”
Belz and Melrose said anyone with financial questions about the project should contact DOT Commissioner David Bernhardt.
Selena Brown said a man came out to test the noise near her home, but he came on a quiet day when there was no traffic, and she told him it was a quiet day.
“I have concerns about that, and the deer population,” she said.
Joe Theriault, of Eight Road in Waterville, said noise will surely increase with the project.
“I’ll tell you right now, in the summertime, we hear trucks go up and down the highway … there’s no way you can tell me there’s no noise effect on that,” he said.
Suzanne Leathers, of H.S. Builders on Junction Road in Sidney, was concerned about a plan to cut off part of Junction Road near her property as part of the project.
“If you cut off my road, you cut off my suppliers and I can’t service my customers,” Leathers said. “That’s not fair to my business.”
Toward the end of the question-and-answer session, Saucier asked whether, now that the officials heard the public’s concerns, the DOT would do its own studies or continue to go with those Trafton funded.
“We have been involved from day one,” Belz said. “We reviewed the studies, so we know what they did.”
The estimated construction cost for interchange construction is $4.7 million. Trafton would pay for a third of that cost, a third would be paid by the state and a third by the city of Waterville, if the City Council chooses to fund that amount.
City Manager Michael Roy has said that the only way the city could fund it is through tax increment financing revenue, and it is unlikely the city would borrow money to help fund it. Trafton would pay for design and permitting fee costs.
City Councilor Edward Lachowicz, D-Ward 2, spoke at Thursday’s meeting, saying the state is not helping to fix state-aid roads such as College Avenue, and in light of that, he would be hard-pressed to fund the interchange project.
“That’s one of my major concerns,” he said. “I’m trying to keep taxes down.”