WATERVILLE — Waterville is scheduled to receive a $7.37 million federal grant to change the traffic patterns downtown from one-way to two-way, improve intersections, update sidewalks, do plantings, install benches and complete the RiverWalk at Head of Falls, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins announced Thursday.

The grant, targeted at Waterville’s downtown revitalization, is part of $26.6 million being awarded to Maine projects through the BUILD program, previously known as TIGER, to help improve infrastructure, create jobs, reduce traffic congestion and increase safety, Collins, chairwoman of the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, said in a news release.

The release says Elaine Chao, the U.S. Department of Transportation secretary, called Collins on Thursday morning to notify her that the projects Collins advocated for had been approved.

The $7.37 million Waterville grant is to be used toward a $9.2 million project consisting of infrastructure improvements in downtown Waterville.

Colby College President David A. Greene has helped spearhead revitalization efforts in Waterville’s downtown, and the college is investing some $65 million in various projects. The college built a $25.5 million mixed-use residential complex on Main Street that houses 200 students and faculty and staff members, renovated an office building across the street that houses Portland Pie Co. on the first floor, and plans to build a boutique hotel starting next year on Main Street. Colby also is working on an effort to transform The Center downtown into a thriving center for art and film.

Greene said in Collins’ news release that he and others are deeply grateful for her and Chao’s support for the revitalization efforts through the BUILD grant award.

“This grant will be a catalyst for a safe, beautiful and vibrant Main Street,” Greene said. “Our downtown businesses will prosper with these changes, and job growth and opportunity will continue to be the cornerstone of Waterville’s resurgence. This is a great day for the city of Waterville and for all those who are committed to seeing this community thrive.”

City Manager Michael Roy said Thursday he thinks the grant having been awarded to Waterville is another sign that people recognize the renaissance that has been ongoing downtown and want to be part of it.

“When I think about the total investments made already, and those to come in our downtown, it’s staggering — mind staggering — that in the end, it appears to be close to $100 million,” Roy said. “With all the property transactions and investments that will come in the next two or three years, I think it’s eventually getting to that number. It’s been such terrific news for the city and especially the downtown area, which, only two or three years ago, was a very real concern for the city in terms of the vitality. Now, with all the extra people on the street and the buildings improved and changed and, of course, the new construction, it’s just fabulous.”

Likewise, Mayor Nick Isgro said the grant stands to represent the “largest improvement to infrastructure in the city of Waterville in the last 20 years.”

“I am incredibly thankful to Sen. Susan Collins and her assistants in reviewing this grant, as well as the team at Colby College and the Central Maine Growth Council, who put in countless hours to draft the materials and put this grant together,” Isgro said Thursday when contacted by phone.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, whose district includes Waterville, submitted a letter in support of the grant application. Pingree in October met with Waterville Creates! officials and other downtown advocates and toured the Main Street revitalization projects.

“Some fantastic things have been happening in Waterville’s downtown over the last few years — new businesses, redevelopment, investment, and a resurgence of the arts, to name a few,” Pingree said Thursday in a news release. “Bringing the city’s traffic flow and infrastructure up to date is key to keeping up the momentum. This grant will fund significant changes to decrease congestion, improve safety, and increase access for pedestrians. I’m excited to see this highly anticipated project come to fruition.”

Kimberly N. Lindlof, president and chief executive officer of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce, based in Waterville, said she and others are “ecstatic about the potential” of the grant.

“We’re over the moon that we were able to secure that,” Lindlof said Thursday afternoon. “This federal grant is substantial. The more that we can get in grant money, the better for the region, and we don’t have to pay it back.”

Garvan Donegan, director of planning and economic development for the Central Maine Growth Council, said he had just learned of the grant announcement.

“It is obviously extremely, extremely welcomed, and we couldn’t be more thrilled,” Donegan said. “It’s just settling in over here as well.”

Donegan noted that the city still must have a discussion about any changes downtown, and the City Council would have approval authority over any proposed traffic pattern change and other improvements. The changes would include modernizing traffic patterns for the downtown, which may include channeling some of the traffic to the periphery and adjusting five or six intersections, according to Donegan.

“We look forward to working on this project,” he said.

City Council Chairman Steve Soule, D-Ward 1, who did not seek re-election in November and whose term ends in early January, said Waterville should be thrilled, as grants are a gift to the city.

“The new council will get to vote on accepting the opportunity to create change that will improve our downtown, Concourse and Head of Falls,” Soule said. “This is an exciting announcement.”

Of 869 applications submitted for the highly competitive BUILD grant program, only 91 were selected, including the three Maine projects.

The two other recipients of the grants are the Western Gateways Project and Traffic Mobility Improvements Project.

As part of Western Gateways, the state Department of Transportation will receive an $11 million BUILD grant toward a $22 million effort to repair and resurface, improve drainage and enhance pedestrian safety on a network of three key roadways in Kingfield, Woodstock and Fryeburg, according to Collins.

“MDOT will increase the safety of these roads for motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians and provide access to rural retail, commerce, employment centers, shipping routes, and recreation points critical to the economy. The proposal will meet ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and MDOT’s standards for sidewalk, crossing, and bike lane safety.”

The DOT will get $8.2 million as part of a $16.5 million project to replace and enhance with updated technology 104 of 804 traffic signals statewide, according to Collins.

“This includes traffic signal systems; infrared camera vehicle detection at intersections; fiber interconnect wire; emergency pre-emption devices to improve fire, safety, and law enforcement navigation through signals; back-plates with reflective striping; communication to the Traffic Management Center; ADA improvements; and infrastructure to support autonomous vehicles. MDOT believes these upgrades will help maintain safe and efficient traffic flow and proposes to maintain all traffic signal detection, rather than leaving it to municipalities.”

David Bernhardt, commissioner of the state DOT, also weighed in Thursday on the grant award.

“Thank you to Senator Susan Collins who continues to put the infrastructure needs of the State of Maine on the front burner,” Bernhardt said in a news release. “As these grants demonstrate, transportation is not all about roads and bridges, but rather a vast network that is crucial to help keep Maine’s economy moving forward.”

The BUILD provides federal assistance for transportation projects nationwide. Since the grant program’s inception in 2009 as TIGER, Collins has secured more than $160 million for key transportation investments throughout Maine for bridges, seaports and rail projects. Collins’ news release says grant applications through the highly competitive program have been successful in every funding round because of her advocacy.

This is the 10th funding round of TIGER/BUILD grants. The U.S. DOT received a total of $11 billion in requests from more than 800 applications during this round.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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