BRADENTON, Fla. — A federal judge Wednesday allowed a lawsuit against the $2.6 billion Ohio River Bridges Project to proceed, and ordered briefs to be filed with the court by the end of February.
Judge John Heyburn lifted a stay that had the case on hold, and said the schedule going forward should not delay plans by Kentucky and Indiana to proceed with contracting and construction.
The two states are splitting the cost of building new bridges across the Ohio River, and rebuilding the downtown Louisville interchange known as Spaghetti Junction where Interstates 64, 65 and 71 converge.
Kentucky has been comfortable pursuing its portion of the project despite the pending federal suit, said Chuck Wolfe, spokesman for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. "The judge's lifting of the stay in this case allows the cabinet to resume purchasing right of way and to forge ahead with construction," he said.
In 2009, a suit was filed against the Federal Highway Administration in western Kentucky U.S. District Court by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and River Fields Inc. The groups contended that the project would "affect an area that is extraordinarily rich in historic properties and historic districts," and that the FHWA failed to consider certain elements required by the National Environmental Policy Act.
Since then, Kentucky and Indiana transportation officials have intervened in the case as well as several organizations, including the Coalition for the Advancement of Regional Transportation, or CART.
CART contends that the Environmental Policy Act was violated because the FHWA failed to fully consider reasonable transportation alternatives, rather than just vehicular traffic, when it approved the project's environmental impact statement.
Clarence Hixson, attorney for CART, told The Bond Buyer late last week that his organization planned to challenge the 2012 record of decision approved June 20 by the FHWA, which gave final federal approval for construction of the bridges to the states. Hixson also said he expected amended complaints to be filed in the federal lawsuit.
In recent weeks, the FHWA approved the financing, management and tolling plans for the project, which includes placing tolls on new and existing Interstates. That paved the way for both states to issue requests for proposals. Indiana, which is using a public-private partnership, asked four teams to propose plans and bids for the design, construction and financing of the crossing. A finalist is expected to be selected by the end of the year.
A traditional approach is being used by Kentucky, which issued an RFP that three teams will use to develop proposals for designing and building its $1.3 billion project.
The state will use multiple sources of financing, including state and federal funds as well as toll-revenue bonds and grant anticipation revenue vehicle bonds.