AUGUSTA — All the funding is in place to bring Exit 113 on Interstate 95 from half an interchange to a full one.

The last piece came in the form of a $1.2 million grant from the federal government. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, announced the award Friday while standing at the Harold Alfond Center for Cancer Care, one of the MaineGeneral facilities motorists will find easier to access via the new ramps.

Next door while Collins spoke, earth was being moved for MaineGeneral Medical Center’s new 192-bed regional hospital, fed by $276 million banked Wednesday from the sale of bonds.

Collins’ announcement came eight months after two bills that would have funded the work died in Congress. Collins had earmarked $4 million in a Senate bill while U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, had $1 million in a House bill.

The $1.2 million grant comes from the Federal Highway Administration’s Transportation and Community and System Preservation program.

Collins thanked those who collaborated on the grant application, including state and local officials as well as hospital and business executives.

She praised the funding influx as a public-private partnership and said it will spark economic development in the form of job creation.

“I think this is the way these things are going to have to proceed, because things are so tight at all levels of government,” she said.

She said there were 715 applications submitted nationally, and the Exit 113 project was one of 19 projects to receive more than $1 million.

Maine Department of Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt cited a conference call months ago that helped cement support for the project.

He said the roadway improvements will relieve congestion and mitigate three high-crash locations in the city, as well as offering access to 2.5 million square feet of retail and office space in addition to the hospital facilities.

“A lot of stars had to get lined up to make this happen,” said Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, who worked on the city’s end of the interstate project when he was mayor. “This is the largest economic development project in the history of Kennebec Valley, with hundreds of construction jobs and permanent, good-paying jobs.”

He also noted more development permits could be issued now that traffic problems were being addressed.

Funding for the exit includes:

* $6.6 million from the Maine Department of Transportation;

* $3.2 million from MaineGeneral Medical Center; and

* $1.2 million from the city of Augusta via a tax increment financing deal whereby money generated by new development in the area of the hospital reimburse the state.

MaineGeneral Medical Center President and Chief Executive Officer Chuck Hays said Friday the $1.2 million federal grant will go toward MaineGeneral’s contribution.

Collins wrote to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in June, saying the interstate project was a top priority for the Maine Department of Transportation.

In a prepared statement Friday, she added, “This funding will help provide full north and southbound access to I-95 — and connections to Routes 3 and 27–making the future site of the new MaineGeneral Medical Center fully accessible.”

While federal funding has been hung up, the state has paid for design work.

Ernie Martin, a state highway designer, said Friday the project is in the preliminary design stage, and is about to enter a more important coordination phase between the hospital and city.

“The whole key to this project is the three entities: us, the city and the hospital, and we all need to be on the same page,” Martin said.

He said more work remains on two roundabouts that will change traffic patterns in the area.

Martin said he will work with John Milbrand, construction manager at MaineGeneral Health, to set up periodic meetings “to coordinate designs and schedules and include the city, because obviously they have a stake in this, too.” The entrance to the Alfond Center is on Old Belgrade Road, and plans show the hospital will have an entrance there, as well. There will be an internal roadway between the two hospitals.

Martin said he anticipates a preliminary public meeting in October to unveil roadway plans, with a final hearing set for February.

He said he expects the highway work to be advertised in January 2013, with an estimated completion date of November 2013.

“We’ve been working with hospital preliminarily to make sure our schedules will meet at the end,” Martin said. “And make sure we’re not tripping over each other.”

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]


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