(BLOOMINGTON) - Tree cutting began Thursday along Ind. 37 through Bloomington as workers clear the way for I-69.
The Herald Times reports that motorists traveling on the four-lane highway from just north of Bloomington to the southern edge should be on the lookout for short-term lane closures and reduced speed limit zones.
Crews from Bloomington-based Crider & Crider Inc. are removing the trees. In December, the Indiana Department of Transportation awarded a $2 million contract to the local firm for the project.
INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield says about 30 acres of new right of way is being cleared along the highway through Bloomington. He did not know how many trees will be chopped down.
The state is upgrading the highway to interstate standards, closing off most access roads along the way.
Crews will begin their work at the Bean Blossom Creek overflow, near the interchange at Business Ind. 37, and work south through Bloomington. The tree removal is necessary for the reconfiguration of 21 miles of the existing highway between Bloomington and Martinsville. Actual highway construction is scheduled to begin later this year.
All tree cutting must be completed by March 31 to comply with U.S. Fish and Wildlife regulations protecting the endangered Indiana bat during roosting season.
Wingfield says that in exchange for the lost trees, the state is purchasing land and preservation easements for 1,100 acres to mitigate the environmental impacts of I-69 between Bloomington and Martinsville. More than 800 acres of forest will be preserved, and 300 acres of new trees will be planted to increase future bat habitat.
The new, 142-mile I-69 corridor between Evansville and Indianapolis was divided into six sections for construction. The first three, which opened in November 2012, cut travel time on the 67 miles between Crane and Evansville by half an hour.
Construction is underway on 27 miles of I-69's Section 4 between Crane and Bloomington, which is expected to open to traffic in phases later this year and into early 2015. Private sector proposals to design, build, finance, operate and maintain I-69 Section 5 are being taken now.
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