SPEARS — Walking down to Marble Creek is a twice-a-day ritual for Liz Hobson.
She has lived in southeastern Jessamine County since 1975, and ambling down to the stream with her four dogs is a way for the 67-year-old to clear her head.
"It's regenerative, being in nature and being with my animals, and just being here with the trees and the water and the rocks," the retired director of education for Kentucky Educational Television said. "I can't stand it if I don't have that every day."
But Hobson and other residents along Newman Road south of Spears are concerned that their sublime rural setting might be disturbed by a proposed two- or four-lane road that would link Interstate 75 in northern Madison County with Nicholasville.
So battle lines are being drawn once again over the so-called I-75 connector road, an east-west artery over the Kentucky River and the limestone cliffs known as the Palisades.
On the one side are those who wryly call themselves "the Disconnectors," a group of about 80 people who organized this spring to stop the road. They say the connector is unnecessary and will destroy the sensitive ecosystems along Marble Creek and the river at Valley View.
"It has the potential to so totally change this whole rural part of Jessamine County," Hobson said. "It just doesn't make a lot of sense to us."
On the other side are those like Nancy Stone, chairwoman of the Jessamine County Joint Transportation Task Force and retired director of the Jessamine County Chamber of Commerce. She and others see the road as a necessity for residents, students, travelers and truckers who need a better link to I-75.
Stone acknowledged the Disconnectors have concerns that need to be heard.
"Nobody wants to ignore what these people are saying," she said. "Nobody's trying to pull the wool over anybody's eyes. We're just trying to make the very best decision under the circumstances with everybody's voice being heard."
With that in mind, the state Transportation Cabinet will hold public meetings Aug. 21 in Nicholasville and Aug. 23 in Richmond to hear what people have to say about the proposed road, and to present a status report of what's happened in its planning and what's to come.
More information about the road's planning status is available at I-75connector.com, on Facebook at Facebook.com/I75Connector and on Twitter at @I75connector.
It will be the latest round of public meetings to discuss a proposed road that traces its origins to the 1980s, when ideas were aired about an "outer loop" or "outer beltway" south of Lexington that, among other things, would give Jessamine County — as well as Boyle, Lincoln and Garrard counties — a quicker way to get to I-75.
Public discussion has waxed and waned over the years as proposals arose only to be nixed in the wake of fierce vocal opposition. For this reason, some wags called the I-75 link "the vampire road" because it never dies, even after opponents seemingly hammered a stake through its heart.
Indeed, Hobson said the Disconnectors didn't organize until this spring because they were unaware that the road was still up for consideration. The connector has gained steam since August 2005, when then-U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning secured $500,000 in federal money for a feasibility study. That study was completed in 2008 and concluded that the road was needed, among other reasons, to reduce traffic congestion and improve access for truck traffic.
The design phase for the connector, which will include an environmental impact study, began earlier this year.
The exact alignment for the road isn't known, but it is projected to go within a corridor that extends east from the as-yet-unbuilt Eastern Bypass around Nicholasville to Exit 95, the Boonesboro exit at Ky. 627, on Interstate 75.
At its widest portion, the connector-road corridor is about 2 miles wide. The corridor narrows as it extends east to Exit 95. The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, with approval of the Federal Highway Administration, will decide the alignment after considering public comments, environmental impacts and cost.
The cost isn't known, although it is sure to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. There is talk of leveraging taxpayer and private funds, or having motorists pay tolls. The Kentucky legislature will make the decision on whether funds will be appropriated.
Even if there are no hiccups or delays, construction of the 13-mile connector road wouldn't start until 2020, and the earliest it would open to traffic is 2026.
Nevertheless, Hobson and other opponents gave consulting engineers and state transportation officials an earful at a May 24 meeting in Jessamine County. In the wake of that meeting, the Disconnectors were invited to have a representative on a citizen's advisory committee that meets periodically to discuss the road.
Hobson joined that citizen's advisory group, whose members include various city and county officials; representatives of industrial authorities; and groups as diverse as the Kentucky River Authority, the Nature Conservancy and White Hall State Historic Site. But Hobson let them know she won't be co-opted and remains strictly opposed to the road.
That's because, she said, southeastern Jessamine is home not only to rare plants and wildflowers, but also to many different historic sites and cemeteries. Daniel Boone settled in the Marble Creek area in 1784, nine years after establishing Boonesborough. There are caves and unusual rock formations, and otters and beavers swim in the creek.
"We're 15 minutes from town and this is like paradise out here," said Claudia Isenhour, another Disconnector. "I just can't imagine a highway coming straight through here ruining this area that is so pristine."
Stone said she understands that the Disconnectors have concerns.
"And so as this process goes along, it is absolutely imperative that their voice be heard, so that the whole job can be done with the least possible impact" on the Palisades, the environment, historic sites and residents, Stone said.
But Stone added that the connector road isn't just a Jessamine County issue, but a regional issue because Fayette County could benefit from the reduction of traffic on Nicholasville Road and Man o' War Boulevard.
In addition, the Clays Ferry Bridge on I-75 south of Lexington is recognized as a key infrastructure asset because of the heavy movement of freight crossing it. In 2004, 25 percent to 30 percent of the vehicles traveling I-75 in Fayette and Madison counties were trucks, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
And a new connector, proponents say, would offer an alternate way to continue moving traffic if the bridge were damaged by a natural disaster or "hostile act."
These arguments don't hold water with the Disconnectors. Hobson, in particular, said Jessamine and other counties don't necessarily need better connections to I-75.
"Look at Danville: Here is a great town that manages to be vibrant and interesting and stimulating and economically viable, and how far away is it from the interstate?" Hobson said. "It has to do with leadership and people who are future-thinking and who create a great place to live."
So, in the meantime, the Disconnectors spread their message through Facebook at Facebook.com/StopI75Connector and through a Web page called StopI75connector.com, where they seek people to sign a petition opposing the road.
"We're trying to be very systematic and concentrated and not lose our energy," Hobson said.