Kentucky Transportation Cabinet officials told Jessamine County residents Tuesday that environmental and other factors are being taking into consideration in the I-75 connector project.
More than 300 people turned out for the workshop held at East Jessamine Middle School.
Many of those in attendance were against the connector road and offered various reasons why.
“We feel like it’s going to go through some environmentally sensitive area, and it’s really not a road that’s needed,” Jessamine County resident David Thomas, who was wearing a red “Stop I-75 Connector” sign on his back, said. “We’re concerned about the pollution and cutting farms into pieces.”
Transportation-cabinet officials have said that identifying environmental issues is at the forefront of the current design phase.
Jerry Leslie, vice president of H.W. Lochner, the engineering firm selected to do the design work, said screening criteria are in place to aid the cabinet.
“Screening criteria include ecological and environmental impacts such as how many acres of wetlands you are impacting,” Leslie said. “Screening criteria is used to see which one has least impact.”
Other county residents opined that the connector could just as easily go through Garrard County, thus saving Jessamine’s natural beauty.
“We don’t want to be like Fayette County; we want to preserve the rural integrity of our county as long as we can,” Paul Isenhour said. “I think they could have gone through Garrard County or connected up at the Bluegrass Parkway, maybe.”
Not everyone was against the plan.
Mark Burton said the connector would be the “best thing for our county.”
“I think it would be better than the eastern bypass because we have no way to 75,” he said. “If you take Union Mill Road (to get to) the interstate (by) going through Spears and Jacks Creek and out to 25 to hit 75 — we just need better access.”
Recently, a group of concerned residents formed the I-75 Disconnectors and established a website pushing its manifesto.
Leslie said much of the information on the website is grossly inaccurate, including the project’s cost, which the website states could reach nearly $400 million.
Leslie said the project will cost between $100 million and $150 million and the cabinet is looking at ways of paying for it, including the possibility of making it a toll road.
“That (estimated cost) is what we are looking at; we're trying to figure out where they got $400 million,” Leslie said.
The Disconnector group also raised concerns about increased semi-truck traffic. According to a 2008 transportation-cabinet study, only 15 percent of the traffic on the connector would be semi-trucks — not the 20 percent the website indicated, while the rest would be car and light-truck traffic.
“We did a traffic analysis to determine the split of vehicles, and for an area like this, it’s 15-percent trucks,” Leslie said, adding that the highest typical semi-truck interstate rates sits at 30 percent.
The project would link Nicholasville to northern Madison County near exit 95. The project is currently in its design phase and needs an environmental impact study to be completed before construction begins.
Leslie said once the cabinet has all the information it needs, it will decide the best way to proceed.
“We are taking an objective look at this project,” he said. “We are not a pro, let's build this road. We have to look at it objectively, and the federal government requires us to do that.”
In 2008, the transportation cabinet established a 26-square-mile corridor. District 7 manager Robert W. Nunley said while a corridor has been established, a route has not yet been decided upon. Nunley also said the connector would not be an interstate-type of road.
When the project was first tossed around, Nunley said many areas, such as Garrard County were considered, he said Jessamine was most likely chosen because Garrard already has an indirect connection to I-75 via Ky. 52.
In addition, Nunley said once the design phase is completed, the cabinet would weigh all the alternatives, including a no-build option.
“The do-not-build option is still on the table,” Nunley said.
Jessamine County resident Seth Thomas said the nature of the connector would require at least two interchanges or access points.
“And at those access points, it’s going to be open for commercial development,” he said. “It might not be in five years or 10 years — it could be in 20 or 30 years. It’s going to be the same crap that they have on the western side of Nicholasville and north of Nicholasville.”
While Seth Thomas and many other residents are worried about possible development once the road is built, Nunley said that the county’s joint comprehensive plan, as he understands it, has that corridor currently zoned as agriculture use. He also said and development issues would have to be taken up with Jessamine County officials, if the development is proposed at a later date.
Seth Thomas scoffed at that claim.
“The track record of the county has shown nothing to me except that it is going to be more of the same,” he said.
For more information the I-75 connector, visit www.i-75connector.com.
To find out more about the opposing argument, go to www.stopI75connector.com.