WATERVILLE — The city must sign and execute an agreement with the federal government by Sept. 20, 2020 to receive a $7.37 million grant for downtown traffic and other improvements, and that money must be used within five years of that date.

That was the word Monday from Garvan Donegan, director of planning and economic development for the Central Maine Growth Council, who worked on the grant application.

“It’s up to the city to decide how quickly and where, in that window of opportunity, this project moves forward,” Donegan said.

The grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s BUILD program, would be used for potentially changing traffic from one-way to two-way downtown, as well as for sidewalk and intersection improvements, landscaping, benches, and beautifying Castonguay Square.

City Manager Michael Roy said Monday that for the city to receive the grant, the City Council must vote to accept it.

Accepting the grant means that the traffic pattern would change from one-way to two-way and other proposed improvements would happen.

But, he said, the public will have input on those proposals before any vote is taken and a public forum for discussing the grant will be advertised prominently.

“We may even have a separate meeting, just for that purpose of having public comment,” Roy said. “I’m not sure yet how the council wants to conduct that process. Certainly, it’s not anything we’re going to just rush into. It’s a very big decision. We want to make sure people have the opportunity to learn about it, comment and, early in 2019, the council would make their decision — that’s my guess at this point,” Roy said.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins announced Thursday that Waterville is scheduled to receive the $7.37 million federal grant, targeted at downtown revitalization. It was part of $26.6 million 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.

The infrastructure proposal for downtown is estimated to cost $9.2 million, with $7.37 coming from the federal government’s BUILD program.

“The difference will be made up through public-private partnership, including support via Colby College,” Donegan said.

Brian Clark, Colby’s vice president of planning who also worked on the grant, said Monday that Colby has committed $1 million to help make up the difference, the state DOT also is pitching in funding and Colby is heading up a fundraising effort to help garner the rest.

“There’s really no Waterville taxpayer contribution included in this budget,” Clark said.

He said the grant would be used for a comprehensive rebuilding of downtown — the first since urban renewal efforts of many years ago. The rebuilding would be more than just changing traffic from one-way to two, according to Clark. All sidewalks would be redone, new streetscapes designed, Castonguay Square improved, trees and other greenery planted, benches installed and the downtown made more vibrant, beautiful and thriving.

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A design process will be kicked off to discuss streetscape improvements, he said.

The council in 2017 voted to approve the idea for a two-way traffic pattern change on both Main and Front streets downtown.

The city submitted the grant application last summer.

“It was an honor to work on the grant application along with the Colby College team and help from the city as well,” Donegan said. “It was a whirlwind. It was a great project. It was the most robust grant application I have ever worked on. A great team, with the Colby team as well.”

Donegan said he was surprised the grant was approved, as 869 applications were submitted for grants and only 91 were awarded.

“I knew we put together a very compelling and competitive grant application, and I was expecting we would get good feedback,” he said. “To be honest, I was very surprised. I knew it was highly competitive throughout the country. I knew we would be up against some significant projects, from rebuilding ports to bridges to major, mega projects, so the competition was certainly daunting, but at the same time, I knew we put together a really good application.”

Donegan said he thinks the fact that Waterville had a lot of public input in the downtown revitalization proposal and it received approval from the City Council made a big difference in the grant approval.

“We were successful because we had done this robust community planning process we could point to,” he said.

He said the Growth Council was honored to be able to contribute to the process.

“I think the city has a very great future, and we are very dedicated to that future,” he said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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