WATERVILLE — The new $5 million Trafton Road interchange on Interstate 95 in the southern part of the city is drawing more truck and car traffic to the area, as well as interest from companies seeking to add a Trafton Road delivery and shipping address.

Funded by federal, state and private money, the full interchange at mile 124, which includes northbound and southbound on and off ramps, opened in mid-July.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Transportation is planning to rebuild Trafton Road to accommodate the changes and increased traffic. Officials said they hope to hold a meeting in October to notify the public about funding and a schedule for road work.

While statistics on the number of vehicles using Trafton Road and the interchange are not available, businesses, city officials and those who live in the area say that many more people are traveling Trafton Road to enter and exit I-95 at the interchange. People from Winslow who typically drive through Waterville and on Kennedy Memorial Drive to get to I-95 are now crossing Carter Memorial Bridge from Winslow into Waterville, crossing Abenaki Road and driving south on West River Road to get to Trafton Road.

“I don’t have any traffic data yet. I’m sure that will be forthcoming,” said Garvan Donegan, senior economic development specialist with the Central Maine Growth Council, based in Waterville. “But now, anecdotally, I do think folks are using it and finding it convenient.”

Donegan said companies working in the areas of logistics and transportation, precision manufacturing, construction, marine technology and aquaculture, environmental services and energy are expressing interest in moving to the area where Trafton Properties, which provided major funding for the interchange, already has a building that is fully occupied with businesses at the corner of Trafton and West River roads. That 227,000-square-foot building is the former Wyandotte Mill.

Trafton Properties, which owns 921 acres in Sidney and Waterville, received approval Aug. 7 from the city’s Planning Board to build next to the former mill a 120,000-square-foot commercial building to house new businesses.

“I think that shows confidence in the potential of Trafton Road, and 977 West River Road is 100 percent occupied,” Donegan said. “They’re just kind of exploding at the seams over there.”

At the Planning Board meeting where the new commercial building was approved for Trafton Road, Christi Holmes, of Gorrill Palmer Consulting Engineers, of Gray, said the building would be constructed about a mile from the new I-95 interchange on a 75-acre site set back 150 feet from the southern abutter.

The building’s owner anticipates having six tenants who might use the space for warehousing, storage and possibly light manufacturing, she said.

The interchange project was funded by Trafton Properties, which pitched in $1.81 million plus engineering and other costs, a $1 million federal Economic Development Administration grant and $2 million from the state DOT.

The idea from the start was to have the interchange take pressure off Kennedy Memorial Drive, which is congested with traffic, including trucks entering and exiting I-95. Before the Trafton Road interchange was built, trucks traveled north on West River Road past Thomas College and entered I-95 via Kennedy Memorial Drive more than 5 miles away.

City and Trafton Properties officials had discussed an interchange at Trafton Road for about 10 years before it was built.

The interchange was the state’s first project under the Business Partnership Initiative, which gives road projects a higher priority if developers help pay for them. Geared toward projects that help local economic development efforts, it splits the project’s costs.

The Waterville City Council approved the interchange project in 2014 with the understanding the city would not help fund the project.

REBUILDING TRAFTON ROAD

Ernie Martin, senior project manager for the state Department of Transportation, said Thursday that the department is planning to rebuild Trafton Road so that it is built to standard, similar to the way Lyons Road in Sidney was rebuilt after an I-95 interchange was built there many years ago.

Currently, travel lanes on Trafton Road are 10 feet wide. According to DOT’s current draft design, they would be widened to 11 feet with 4-foot paved shoulders, for a total of 30 feet of pavement, according to Martin.

The DOT has funding for the design phase of the project, Martin said, but does not yet have right-of-way or construction funding.

While the road is city-owned, the state will take ownership within about a year, according to the city’s public works director, Mark Turner.

“We’ll still plow it, but we will not have to do paving or major maintenance such as culverts,” he said.

Residents report more traffic on Trafton and West River roads now that the new interchange is open, and they say they are concerned about the condition of Trafton Road.

“The traffic has definitely increased, especially morning commuters and evening commuters,” said Aimee Trafton Gilbert, who lives on Trafton Road near the former Wyandotte Mill. “It used to be you’d come to the end of the driveway and peek out, and now you really need to look, because the traffic is coming fast.”

Gilbert, whose family has lived in the area many years and gave the road its name, said she and her children used to walk on the shoulder of Trafton Road, but they no longer do so because people drive much faster than the designated 45 mph, and the road is in disrepair and too narrow for big trucks. The road also has sharp turns and hills, she said.

“People come flying by. They just fly,” Gilbert said. “The interchange itself is great. I definitely don’t want to come across really negative, because it is real convenient. I just wish it would be monitored more closely.”

Gilbert’s father, William Trafton, who lives next door to her and has lived on Trafton Road all of his 76 years, said the interchange is handy but the road needs a lot of work.

“The road literally is a cow path. They used to close the road often and not open it in the wintertime,” he said. “They used to block the road right off and put sawhorses up until people started building houses out there. I’ve seen times in spring when culverts won’t take all the water and it goes over the road and they had to close the road. Somebody’s going to get hurt, undoubtedly. There has been a drastic change in traffic. It’s gotten a lot heavier.”

Trafton said the area has changed a lot since he was a child, when it was all rural, undeveloped land, but he acknowledges there’s nothing anyone can do to stop development.

“I look at it like you can’t stop progress,” he said. “The south end of the city has more room in it than anywhere else. It’s just a matter of time there’ll be a garage or restaurant out here. It’s going to happen.”

The DOT’s Martin said he cannot disagree with residents about the state of Trafton Road and its pavement width, curves, lack of shoulder and sight distance problems, but he said the reconstruction will address that. Whenever a major construction project such as an interchange is undertaken, residents are concerned about the changes that result, he said. The reconstruction of Trafton Road will address sight distance problems, adjust the “verticality” of the road, widen the pavement and make it a standard highway, he said.

“I think it’s definitely going to be an improvement over what’s out there today,” he said.

Like Donegan, Martin said he expects Trafton Road will be used more by drivers, businesses and Thomas College, which is located on West River Road. In the future, he expects officials will study traffic counts in that area.

Business owners and employees along West River Road are noticing the traffic increase. Dan Theriault, assistant manager of College Quik Stop, next to the entrance to Webb Road, said he especially has noticed more diesel trucks passing by the business.

Mike Fortin, owner of Fortin’s Home Furnishings on Augusta Road in Winslow, said some of his employees now cross over the Carter Bridge to West River Road to head to Trafton Road and the interchange, whereas formerly they traveled a different route to get to I-95.

“I believe my trucks that would normally go down West River Road and jump on (I-95) in Sidney are now jumping on the new interchange,” Fortin said. “I do it personally when I leave here.”

He said the interchange is convenient and enables drivers to avoid going through the several traffic lights on Kennedy Memorial Drive, which can mean a lot of stopping and starting. Using Trafton Road allows drivers to stay off main roads, especially in the winter, Fortin said.

“It’s definitely going to be more convenient for us. I think it’s going to be more convenient for a lot of people, especially when they get it paved,” he said.

Donegan, of the Central Maine Growth Council, said there is a tremendous potential for growth on Trafton Road and beyond, coinciding with revitalization of Waterville’s downtown.

Donegan has been working with Harry Kajoian, vice president of operations for Trafton Properties, and Kajoian’s team to help draw businesses to Trafton Road. He said he envisions construction not only of the 120,000-square-foot building, but of more facilities as time goes by.

While Kajoian was unavailable for comment late last week, Donegan said he is certain the building will be built on the site, though he is not sure when.

“I think, honestly, it’s not if, it’s when they build this facility,” Donegan said, “and I do see them building more. They’ve had these land holdings for a long time.”

He said Kajoian is great to work with, has expertise in building such facilities and is always willing to entertain creative scenarios such as building to lease, building to own and building to sell.

One of the businesses in the former Wyandotte mill is F3 Mfg Inc., Donegan said. It manufactures aluminum truck equipment, employs 90 people and plans to have more than 100 employees by the end of the year.

“It’s a very fast-growing company with upward mobility for employees,” he said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

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Twitter: @AmyCalder17