BANGOR – The east-west highway from Calais to Watertown, N.Y., is now identified on the new Congressional High Priority Corridor map, unveiled Monday at the Bangor-based East-West Highway Association offices.

“The significance of this is the federal government has recognized the importance of a high priority corridor in this region,” Sandy Blitz, executive director of the association, said during the unveiling. “It will connect the four states, not only to each other, but it connects us to Halifax, [Nova Scotia]” and to Montreal and Toronto.

“That’s the significance of it,” he said.

Before Monday’s unveiling, New England had no identified high priority routes, a fact Matt Robison, deputy chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud, D-Maine, used to stress the region’s need.

“It was as if New England didn’t even exist,” he said. “What this designation did was, quite literally, put Maine on the map.”

A bipartisan effort was credited in getting the federal designation, between the offices of Michaud and U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, Robison said.

In general, the east-west corridor starts in Calais and runs along U.S. Route 9. Then it connects with Interstate 395, then Interstate 95 and then Route 2 in Newport, which it follows to the New Hampshire state line. The planned connector in the Skowhegan area would provide easy access to Montreal.

While Maine is constructing its portion of the highway, which is expected to take up to 20 years, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York will work on their portions. The price tag for the entire project is in the neighborhood of $900 million.

“Exactly were it’s going to go will be determined by” individual projects constructed along the general route, Blitz said.

When President Bush signed the federal transportation bill in August, which allocates $1.1 billion to the state over the next six years, $28 million was set aside for the east-west highway.

The money will be spent rebuilding roadways or adding new links to the corridor, including $7 million to $8 million for the new Calais bridge crossing into Canada, funds to construct an extension of Interstate-395, and the Skowhegan bypass.

The proposed corridor also would connect to five established northbound routes in New England and New York.

The federal government typically covers 80 percent of a transportation project’s costs with individual states kicking in matching funds, Blitz said.

Connecting western, central and Down East Maine with the rest of the state, New England and Canada should help communities along the way economically, Blitz said.

“This entire region is in economic distress based on criteria set up by the federal government,” he said, adding later: “If we don’t connect to a viable _economic region … we’ll continue to be in economic distress.”