Those who support or oppose a connector road from Nicholasville to Interstate 75 in Madison County got an opportunity to sound off Thursday night.
Wayne Foster, director of the Jessamine County Economic Development Authority, said the proposed road would make the county more attractive to industrial prospects wanting convenient access to the interstate. A majority of Jessamine's eligible work force travels outside the county for jobs, so potential payroll taxes go to other communities, he said.
"If we were able to create those jobs here so they didn't have to commute out of our community, that would be a substantial uptick in our tax base," Foster said in an interview.
But others, including Ronda Carter, who lives in the Marble Creek area of southeastern Jessamine, said the loss of prime farmland, water resources, historic sites and rural peace don't justify a new road.
"It's more destructive than what they're claiming as a positive outcome," Carter said in the meeting at East Jessamine Middle School. She was among opponents wearing red T-shirts emblazoned with a stop sign and the slogan "Stop the connector."
Last month, consulting engineers identified eight possible zones that might be suitable routes for the proposed connector. The zones all start at one of two points on the planned $124 million Eastern Bypass that would skirt Nicholasville's east side. The zones cross the Kentucky River to terminate at Exit 95, the Boonesboro Road exit at I-75 in northern Madison County.
Comments taken Thursday night will help winnow the eight zones to four in June. From those four, a preferred route will be identified next spring. Consultants and state officials said a "no-build" option remains on the table for now.
More than 270 people turned out for the meeting, and many of them shouted in unison during a time for public speaking when Nicholasville lawyer David Thomas asked for a show of hands of those opposing the road.
"The reason these people are here is because they have a connection to the land" through planting and working it, for example, Thomas said.
On the other hand, Jessamine County Sheriff Kevin Corman provided evidence that road improvements can mean fewer traffic accidents.
Since U.S. 68 was widened to four lanes from the Fayette County line to Wilmore, the number of accidents on that stretch has decreased from 130 in 2008 to 30 in 2012, Corman said. The total number of accidents on two-lane Ky. 169 from Nicholasville's Main Street to the Valley View Ferry has nearly doubled in the same period, from 34 to 67. That road is the primary artery for the area through which the connector would go.
But that's little comfort to Dessie and James Willis of Madison County, who stand to either lose their land or the peace and quiet they now enjoy, no matter which route is chosen. James Willis scrolled through photos on his smartphone of wild turkey and deer visiting his backyard.
"I don't feel like they're going to reimburse me enough money to where I could buy what I have now," James Willis said of potential state land acquisitions or purchases of easements.
Thursday's meeting was the first of two that the state Transportation Cabinet will hold to receive public comment. The next meeting is from 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at White Hall Elementary School, 2166 Lexington Road, Richmond.