The Department of Transportation (DOT) will be removing trees damaged by gypsy moth caterpillars along Interstate 95 south in East Lyme and Old Lyme.
Trees throughout southeastern Connecticut were infested by the gypsy moth caterpillars for a few years.
While a fungus that kills the caterpillar forms during spring rains, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) said this year the cooler temperatures caused it to appear later than anticipated. It eventually caused a massive die-off.
But the mass amount of caterpillars over the last few years left widespread damage, leaving trees severely compromised or dead along the interstate.
Tree removal efforts began Monday between southbound exits 74 and 70. Drivers should expect to see parts of the right lane closed from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday until Oct. 9.
It’s estimated that 170 trees, mostly oak, are compromised so severely that they are either dead or will not survive.
The DOT is removing them to ensure they’re not a dangerous problem for drivers later.
Crews and a licensed state arborist are going to be using machinery to remove them. There are signs to direct drivers around the work zone and avoid that right-hand lane.
Although this process is scheduled to last for the next two weeks, it all depends on the weather, which could slow the process down if there aren’t the right conditions.
Officials said once the damaged trees are removed they will be able to regrow naturally.
Drivers should expect some delays in the area while the work takes place.
On Monday there was bumper-to-bumper traffic and extreme backups. Several people told NBC Connecticut that they were late for engagements, there were people using the shoulder of the road as a short-cut and a driver even backed off the on-ramp.
"I’d say it took almost twice as long by inching it and inching it. I didn’t even need to step on the gas. I just let it roll all the way from Waterford," said Sharon Kenyon, who drove from Norwich.
The backup was about two-and-a-half miles long, according to DOT Spokesperson Kevin Nursick. He said Monday should be the worst of it since work was being completed right by the I-95/I-395 interchange.
At times the DOT was concerned about the traffic and pulled crews off the road to let it subside, Nursick said. Then, they eventually set back up. DOT workers will not be doing any work during the morning and evening rush hours.
Many people tried to take Route 1 or Route 156 as alternatives, but they were also backed up.
"It was backed up all the way. Almost to the end of the exit," Mike Lisitano, of Waterford, said.
According to DEEP, defoliation occurred three years in a row for some areas of the state. The drought in 2015-2016 made it even more difficult for the trees to recover. DEEP does expect does expect much less defoliation next year.