Endangered turtles in York County are getting a new tunnel to safety thanks to the Maine Turnpike Authority.
A female Blanding’s turtle was getting treatment on Thursday after she was hit by a car on Route 236 in Eliot. The Center for Wildlife has already helped more than 60 others just like her this year.
Derek Yorks, a biologist with Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said the stretch of road is the deadliest in Maine for turtles.
“You have habitat that’s bisected by a road that has such a high traffic volume, there’s almost no chance a turtle’s gonna make it,” he said.
Yorks said funding to solve this kind of problem can be hard to come by.
“It’s real money to fix something like this on a big road,” he said.
Enter the Maine Turnpike Authority.
Because building a new toll plaza in York will disrupt some wetlands, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection said the MTA has to do something to mitigate the impact to the environment and certain endangered species.
“You could spend a lot of money and achieve very little at the site where we’re actually building,” said Peter Mills, executive director of the MTA.
Instead, the MTA will give the state $170,000 to be used in Eliot, where the populations of Blanding’s and Spotted turtles are dwindling.
“Losing even a few adults from a single population every year is not sustainable,” Yorks said.
A culvert further down Route 236 will be turned into a wider, taller tunnel so the turtles can cross underneath. Low fences will also be added alongside to keep them from traveling over the roadway.
“We have high confidence we can make a difference here,” said Yorks.
Mills said barring any appeals, the new toll plaza has its final permits, so work in Eliot could start as soon as next spring.
“We sort of like the idea that something very good for the environment will come out of it,” Mills said.