BRADENTON, Fla. — Three organizations have filed complaints in federal court stating that the environmental approvals for the $2.6 billion Ohio River Bridges Project should be thrown out because they violated federal law.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation and River Fields Inc. filed an amended complaint Wednesday against the Federal Highway Administration saying it failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and the U.S. Department of Transportation Act prior to issuing a revised Record of Decision on June 20.
The Record of Decision gave final federal approval to the massive project after its scope was downsized by the governors of Kentucky and Indiana. The states are building two new bridges, 10 miles apart, across the Ohio River and rebuilding the downtown Louisville interchange where Interstates 64, 65 and 71 converge.
The revised construction plan cut the cost of the project to $2.6 billion from $4.1 billion. Each state is constructing a portion of the project, and splitting the costs.
The National Trust and River Fields originally filed suit against the project in 2009. It’s been delayed because the states revised the project, triggering requirements for new federal reviews and approvals.
Their revised suit Wednesday claims that transportation officials failed to properly consider the effect of building the eastern bridge on a number of historic properties.
They also contend that building one larger bridge through downtown Louisville is more appropriate than building two separate bridges.
A second complaint was filed in the pending suit Tuesday by the Louisville-based nonprofit Coalition for the Advancement of Regional Transportation, or CART, which promotes sustainable transit planning, according to its court filing.
CART’s complaint 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 during reviews.
The FHWA and project sponsors failed to comply with the Environmental Policy Act “by arbitrarily and capriciously joining ‘major projects’ occurring in different geographic areas,” the suit said.
It also contends that plans to toll both bridges “will have significant, prolonged, high and adverse disproportionate impacts to protected low-income minorities,” which was not properly analyzed.
Among 18 claims in the suit, CART alleges there was improper work on the project’s financial plan and that various forms of pollution were not properly considered.
Last month, federal Judge John Heyburn lifted a stay that had the case on hold, and said any actions to be filed should not delay plans by Kentucky and Indiana to proceed with contracting and construction.
“The two complaints were entirely expected,” said Chuck Wolfe, spokesman for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. “Judge Heyburn has never issued an injunction [to stop the work], so we are proceeding normally with the project.”
Other complaints could be filed. The revised Record of Decision was issued June 20 and there is a six-month window before it becomes final. Opponents have until Dec. 26 to file claims and challenges.
State officials broke ground on a road project related to the eastern bridge Aug. 30. Indiana is building that portion of the project with a public-private partnership. A concessionaire is in the process of being selected.
Kentucky is using a traditional design-build approach for the new Kennedy Bridge and Louisville interchange, and plans to pay for it with toll revenue and grant anticipation revenue vehicle bonds, state funds and potentially a low-interest federal loan. The state is in the process of selecting contractors.