By BRADEN LAMMERS
Although construction has already begun, the final blockade for the Ohio River Bridges Project was removed Wednesday.
A ruling in U.S. District Court in the Western District of Kentucky dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Coalition for the Advancement of Transportation, or CART.
CART joined a lawsuit in 2012 that was originally filed by conservancy group River Fields and the National Trust for Historic Preservation that sought to block the bridges project. CART entered the lawsuit because it claimed that there were several major violations, including intentional discrimination against minority
In all, 20 claims were filed by CART that fell into the following categories, in addition to the discrimination claims: The project violates National Environmental Protection Act; it violates various Federal Aid Highway Act funding regulations; and the project threatens the water and air quality of the
The ruling by District Court Judge John Heyburn II dismissed all of CART’s claims.
“The court and anyone associated with the project will concede that interested persons could reach different conclusions concerning the region’s transportation needs and their appropriate resolution,” he wrote in his ruling. “The court’s only role is to determine whether [the] defendants followed the applicable regulatory framework and reached conclusions that the administrative record supports. The court finds that [the] defendants have met their burdens in that respect.”
In a statement, CART voiced disappointment in the ruling.
“We believe this decision leaves the community exposed to some major impacts of the project — both environmental and financial — that will be coming in the future,” David Coyte, president of CART, said in the statement. “We appreciate the chance to give the impacts of the project a good airing in the courts and hope the public will examine what was claimed here, what was decided and what was not addressed.”
CART will be considering its options, according to the statement.
“In the final analysis, Judge Heyburn did not rule on whether the Bridges Project was good or bad transportation planning, but only if the agencies met the procedural rules of NEPA and other legal claims raised in the action,” Coyte said in the statement.
The lawsuit involving the National Trust for Historic Preservation and River Fields was resolved when a settlement agreement was reached between the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and the Indiana Department of Transportation to dedicate $1.7 million to a historic preservation and enhancement fund.
It was agreed that the money was to be split between the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and INDOT.
In Indiana, a large portion of the funding went to relocate five homes in Jeffersonville’s downtown historic district that were slated for destruction as a result of the bridges project.
The only remaining legal challenge to the bridges project was CART’s suit.
“INDOT is pleased that the district court has upheld the decision to approve the project,” said INDOT Spokesman Will Wingfield in an email. “Earlier this year, INDOT together with Kentucky Transportation Cabinet worked with River Fields and the National Trust for Historic Preservation to resolve claims and concerns relating to the project, and now construction has finally begun.”
The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet also issued a response to the ruling that clears the path for the bridges project.
“Judge Heyburn’s ruling affirms what the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet has always believed — that extraordinary care has been taken throughout this project to ensure compliance with all applicable state and federal laws,” according to the statement issued by Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Spokesman Chuck Wolfe. “The Ohio River Bridges Project will bring about numerous, badly needed improvements to cross-river mobility between Louisville and Southern Indiana. The Transportation Cabinet looks forward to continuing that work.”
Both Kentucky and Indiana’s transportation agencies and the states respective contractors have begun construction of the overall plan to build a new northbound Interstate 65 downtown bridge, reconstruct Spaghetti Junction and construct an east-end bridge that will connect I-265 in Utica and Prospect, Ky.