AUGUSTA, Maine — Experts have determined the proposed I-395/Route 9 connector is unlikely to adversely affect northern long-eared bats, which means the project is on track to be approved by the Federal Highway Administration and move forward, a Maine Department of Transportation official announced Friday.
The planned route would extend I-395 where it ends at Wilson Street in Brewer and roughly follow the Holden-Brewer line until entering Eddington and connecting with Route 9.
The two-lane road is designed to ease heavy truck traffic and improve safety on nearby routes 46 and 1A, while also creating a more direct link from Canada to the U.S. highway system.
“MaineDOT expects FHWA to issue a [Record of Decision] on the I-395/Route 9 Transportation Study within the next month or so,” project manager Nathan Howard of the Maine DOT’s Bureau of Planning, said in an email. “Once that happens, MaineDOT intends to hold a public meeting to discuss next steps as the project transitions from the Study Phase to the Design and Right-Of-Way (ROW) Phases.”
The project will displace eight homes and affect another 54 properties in Brewer, Eddington and Holden, according to plans posted on the state’s website detailing the $61 million project.
The northern long-eared bat, which is dwindling in numbers primarily because of white-nose syndrome, was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act on April 2, 2015. Because the territory of the bats includes the area of the project, the Federal Highway Administration determined that a Section 7, or endangered species consultation, had to be completed prior to the issuance of the Record of Decision, Howard said last fall.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service consultants determined the “connector is not likely to adversely affect the [northern long-eared bat],” the project manager said in an email Friday.
The Record of Decision is the final step in the Environmental Impact Statement process and identifies the preferred route, presents the basis for the decision, identifies the alternatives considered, specifies the “environmentally preferable alternative” and provides information to avoid, minimize and compensate for environmental impacts, the Maine DOT’s I-395-Route 9 connector website states.
It is the sixth of seven steps needed to complete the project, which has a tentative 2025 opening date.
The planned route will go under two existing roads — Eastern Avenue and Mann Hill Road — and four bridges will be added over Lambert Road, Levenseller Road, Felts Brook and Eaton Brook. Eastbound traffic on Route 9 will hit a stop sign where it connects with the new route.
The connector has been in planning stages for 16 years, and members of a local regional transportation board said they felt forced to endorse the road project last month, when state officials told them they would lose $57 million in regional road project funding.
The Bangor Area Comprehensive Transportation System’s policy committee endorsement was also approved by FHA officials on April 8 and allocates $250,000 to prepare preliminary engineering and right-of-way documents for the connector, Howard said.