BRADENTON, Fla. - Kentucky and Indiana have settled the 2009 federal lawsuit filed by two nonprofit organizations that had the potential to derail the $2.6 billion Ohio River Bridges Project, according to state officials.
The 29-page proposed agreement with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and River Fields Inc., and a joint motion to dismiss the complaint, were filed with the U.S. District Court in the Western District of Kentucky. Both still must be approved by Federal Judge John Heyburn.
The settlement calls for the states to split the cost of creating a $1.7 million Historic Preservation and Enhancement Fund to provide grants to local governments and non-profit organizations to preserve and enhance historic properties in areas affected by the Bridges Project, in addition to other measures.
“This settlement is a win-win achievement for all parties,” said John Hildreth, regional vice president of the National Trust. “It addresses critical concerns about the bridge’s impact, will benefit historic preservation activities in both states, and will allow important preservation projects to proceed.”
Still outstanding is a complaint filed in September by the Louisville, Ky.-based nonprofit Coalition for the Advancement of Regional Transportation, or CART, which promotes sustainable transit planning.
CART alleges that the new bridges, one adjacent to the existing Kennedy Bridge though Louisville and another 10 miles to the east, are in different geographic areas and were improperly combined into one mega-project making it difficult to assess impacts.
That litigation is still pending, according to Kentucky Transportation Cabinet spokesman Chuck Wolfe.
“The Cabinet believes the River Fields/National Trust litigation was the last court action with at least the potential to stop the Ohio River Bridges Project,” Wolfe said Monday. “We do not believe the CART litigation has that potential.”
CART’s president, David Coyte, said Monday that it is moving forward with its complaint. He also called a major source of funding for the Ohio River Bridges Project a “pretty shaky foundation” because it is based on future allotments from the Federal Highway Trust Fund.
“I think the bond market should be cautious about getting involved with this project because it’s based on vehicle miles traveled,” said Coyte, who added that driving on the interstate system has declined since about 2007. “This continued drop in vehicle miles traveled is a real tipping point in the financial stability of our highway system.”
Coyte said his organization planned to file a new brief in the case on Monday.
In addition to the $1.7 million grant fund, the proposed settlement with the National Trust and River Fields calls for both states to make additional commitments to historic preservation.
Those commitments include protecting and relocating historic homes, nominating properties for the National Register of Historic Places, and installing historical markers. The agreement also institutes procedures for notifying the public about meetings and construction activities by the Bi-State Management Team, and making information available on the project website at www.kyinbridges.com.
“We believe our advocacy has resulted in a much-improved Ohio River Bridges Project,” said Lee Cory, president of the River Fields Board of Trustees.
“For the first time, there is a legal agreement that the downtown crossing and the eastern crossing will be built simultaneously, which is necessary to fulfill the purpose and need of the project - improving cross-river mobility,” Cory said.
“We also feel confident that our negotiations have resulted in assurances to minimize the impact on historically significant properties in both Indiana and Kentucky, and potentially on water quality” for Louisville residents.
Kentucky is building the Downtown Crossing, consisting of a new Interstate 65 bridge for northbound traffic, reconfiguring the existing I-65 bridge for southbound traffic, and reconstructing a major interchange through Louisville.
Indiana is building the East End Crossing, which consists of a new bridge between Prospect, Ky., and Utica, Ind., as well as highways that connect I-265 in both states.
Indiana recently reached commercial closing on a public-private partnership with WVB East End Partners for its project, which is expected to cost $225 million less than originally projected.
Kentucky is using traditional financing, and selected Walsh Construction Co. to lead a “design-build” team that plans to reduce construction costs by more than $90 million.