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Route recommended

NICHOLASVILLE — A draft feasibility study recommends a new east-west toll road that would span the Kentucky River and connect Jessamine and Madison counties.

The recommended corridor for the road would have a western terminus on a proposed eastern bypass near Nicholasville and an eastern terminus at the Ky. 627 (Boonesboro) interchange with Interstate 75.

The recommendation is included in the executive summary of a report that is now on the Web site of the Kentucky Department of Highways District 7 office in Lexington. The U.S. 27 to I-75 scoping study can be seen in its entirety on the Web site.

The corridor "had the most public support of all alternatives" presented at public meetings in Richmond and Nicholasville, according to the study's executive summary.

The corridor also has fewer impacts to flood plains and historic sites than a similar alternative, and it has the lowest estimated cost: between $181 million and $245 million.

Estimates for other alternatives ranged as high as $399 million. But when — and if — the road will be built is anyone's guess, given the state's current budget constraints.

"What I see happening is that you'll get certain phases funded," said Randy Turner, planning section manager for District 7. "Design would come first, and then rights-of-way and utilities would have to be funded, and then construction. Sometimes, if it's a small project, we get all that funding at one time for all phases. But this project is so big, chances are we'll get only one phase at a time. That's just our guess."

Jessamine County officials have long sought a better east-west connection, and better access to I-75, which they hope will relieve traffic on U.S. 27 north of Nicholasville.

"It will enable us to have better business opportunities in Jessamine County," said Judge-Executive Neal Cassity.

Trucks now go north to New Circle Road or Man o' War in Lexington to get to I-75 from Jessamine, Cassity said.

The road would also allow better access for students commuting to and from Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, some of whom now cross the Kentucky River using the Valley View Ferry.

A new bridge over the river "forms a significant portion" of the road's cost, the study says. The proposal of a new bridge has already brought some opposition from those who fear the effects on the environment and the palisades, the limestone cliffs along the river.

Because "funding the project is a challenge given limited current resources," the study proposes that the road have a toll.

A two-lane road could be paid for within a 30-year bond period, assuming tolls of $1 for cars and $2 for trucks, the study says.

Tolls are not imposed on any road in Kentucky now, although there have been toll roads in the past. Tolls are also being investigated as a method of financing for the Louisville-Southern Indiana Ohio River Bridges project.

The lack of available funding also means that the new road would be built in segments. The study says the most logical segments, prioritized from west to east, would be U.S. 27 to Ky. 1981 in Jessamine County, then Ky. 1981 to Tates Creek Road, and finally from Tates Creek Road to I-75.

The study recommends a two-lane road for the initial construction, but also says rights-of-way "should be purchased at the outset" for the possibility of a future four-lane section.

The new road is expected to be limited-access, with interchanges at the proposed eastern bypass, I-75 and possibly two others in the middle at major crossings.

Comments on the draft from members of a "project work group" — which includes property owners and other stakeholders from Jessamine and Madison counties — are due next week and will then be put into a final report to be completed before the end of the year. That report will go to state Transportation Secretary Joe Prather.

"The next step would be to try to somehow secure funding for it," said Stuart Goodpaster, branch manager for project development with District 7. "We don't have anything beyond this study right now."

The process to look at various corridors to connect Jessamine and Madison counties began a year ago with the first public meeting. Between 60 and 70 possible corridors were drawn on maps by the public.

Further analysis narrowed those down to 18 and then to six.

Corridors in southern Fayette County were eliminated from consideration because they would have gone through historic farms, land protected by the Purchase of Development Rights program, and low-income housing in Jessamine County.

The proposed eastern bypass around Nicholasville, where the western terminus would be, has been discussed since 1999. Jessamine authorities hope the bypass would ease congestion for downtown Nicholasville, which clogs with long lines of traffic in the morning, at lunch and in the afternoon.

Design for the bypass is in the state highway plan, Turner said.