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Curtis Morrison: What's REALLY going on with the Ohio River Bridges Project


Is a new bridge really coming to a river near you?

As Insider Louisville reported, the construction of the Ohio River Bridges Project overcame a hurdle late Friday.

What you didn’t hear about Friday is there are hitches still inherent in completing the project even though Kentucky Transportation Cabinet appears to be ignoring them, presenting construction as fait accompli.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, River Fields, Inc., Indiana Department of Transportation, and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet reached a settlement agreement to dismiss a lawsuit filed in 2009 by the National Trust and River Fields.

If approved by District Judge John G. Heyburn II, the agreement will not only put to rest the lawsuit, but will hold Indiana and Kentucky to a higher standard of respect for historic preservation and public involvement as the project progresses, according to the settlement.

River Fields Executive Director Meme Runyon declined comment, referring IL to River Fields President Lee Cory. Cory did not return calls for comment.

But it’s important to note River Fields hasn’t committed to ignoring what happens with the Bridges Project moving forward. River Fields can – and likely will – participate in permit processes that still need to be completed. This would include, but is not limited to, the EPA permit processes the Bridges Project still has to negotiate to build a high-traffic bridge in proximity to Louisville’s water supply.

(See: Insider Louisville | East End Bridge over Louisville Water Co. filtration system means salt, spills could ‘shut down water system for 800,000 people’)

Aside from River Fields, three separate interest groups could impact the project’s future:
  • Coalition for the Advancement of Regional Transportation (CART)
  • Indiana alliance of tolling-opponents, which could include: Town of Clarksville, Clark-Floyd Tourism Bureau, City of Jeffersonville, Organization for a Better Southern Indiana
  • National Trust for Historic Preservation and River Fields, Inc.
  • Kentuckians for Progress, Inc.

Coalition for the Advancement of Regional Transportation

“The legal complaint against Louisville Southern Indiana Ohio River Bridges Project is Far From Settled,” reads the headline for a statement we received last night from David Coyte, CART President.

The release begins by blasting media outlets CART believed overstated the meaning of Friday’s announcement:

The opinion that all serious obstacles to the Bridges Project have been removed, as reported by The Courier Journal, WHAS TV, and other media outlets on Friday January 4th, 2013 with news of the settlement between the Bridges Project and River Fields and the National Trust for Historic Preservation is premature. Reports that CART’s Complaint concerning NEPA, Title VI, and the Project Financing Plan are insignificant or in any way settled are inaccurate and should be tempered in light of the seriousness of the issues still remaining to be litigated.

To be fair to the indicted media outlets, Chuck Wolfe, a spokesman with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, was apparently handing out rose-colored glasses last week.

His statement to the Courier-Journal:

“I think it’s fair to say that the settlement disposes of the last piece of litigation that in theory could have halted the project.”

CART initially asked for an injunction when their suit was filed, but that was denied. Monday was the deadline for plaintiffs to brief the case. According to CART, there will be a summary judgment briefing in March.

CART’s attorney, Clarence Hixson, emails us there are two types of issues going in federal court:

1) A challenge to the adequacy of the National Environmental study. “The judge can dispose of this based on the administrative record with no discovery or trial, ” Hixson wrote. “The standard of review is very deferential – usually guarantees the agency wins. Approval of the project by (Federal Highway Administration) was arbitrary or capricious or omitted necessary facts. KYTC and INDOT figure we lose on this.”

2) “A challenge under Title VI, which makes intentional discrimination illegal. This is not an action with deferential standard of review brought under Administrative Procedures Act jurisdiction. Instead the states that receive federal highway funds wave sovereign immunity and agree to be sued in federal District Court under Title VI. Making a claim under Title VI that survives motion for summary dismissal is difficult.”

Hixson made a new filing just before last night’s midnight filing deadline concerning more arguments on how and why the Bridges Project discriminates against the community’s West End African American population by adding to their burden with the prospect of tolls.

One argument is that the Bridges Project demonstrates “willful disregard of impacts that included exceptionally adverse affects on Title VI populations.”

That argument includes the failure to consider project alternatives, much less weigh the benefits and costs of those alternatives or weigh them against one another. Options included a single East End Bridge a la 8664 and less expensive local access bridges, proposed by Louisville architect Steve Wiser.

Instead, there were three options presented to the public in June 2011 after Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, and Louisville Metro Mayor Greg Fischer proposed what they called the “2011 Modified Alternative”:

1) ‘No Action Alternative’ (Don’t knock it. We’re good at this.)
2) Build it the way it was planned in 2003 at a price of about $4 billion.
3) Build ‘2011 Modified Alternative,’ which means expensive tolls, but WTH.

CART’s complaint also alleges a failure on behalf of the Bridges Project to weigh the future impact of additional traffic throughout the day.

That’s just a couple of the arguments in CART’s complaint that might not disappear so easily. CART’s website is: http://cartky.org/.

Indiana alliance of tolling opponents:

No 2 Bridge Tolls incorporated originally as Organization for a Better Southern Indiana, Inc. The organization operates the website http://www.no2bridgetolls.org.

In 2011, No 2 Bridge Tolls got quite a bit of attention with this billboard on I-65:

According to Clarksville Town Councilman Paul Fetter, who was one of the original founders of No 2 Bridge Tolls, and the manager of Clark County Auto Auction, there is a meeting tonight to talk about how they’re going to move forward.

While it’s too late to challenge the Revised Record of Decision, Fetter emailed me, “There are other angles our legal team are working on.”

Allies of No 2 Bridge Tolls, which ultimately could be co-complainants, include the Town of Clarksville, the City of Jeffersonville, the Clark-Floyd Tourism Bureau, and tens of thousands of Hoosiers who aren’t so keen on their tolls being used to rebuild Spaghetti Junction for East End-to-downtown commuters, who may never pay a toll in their lives.

The tolls will only be collected at first from Northbound Interstate-65 and the new Interstate-265, but could be extended to the Interstate-64 Sherman Minton Bridge as well.

There are no plans for Louisville commuters who use Spaghetti Junction – but not the bridges – to absorb any of the tolls.

Kentuckians for Progress, Inc.

In 2010, a 501(c)(4) called Kentuckians for Progress, Inc. was launched. According to their website’s homepage, “Kentuckians for Progress is dedicated to combating River Fields and their selfish efforts to stop progress, and keeping the future of Louisville moving forward.”

The principals were former Jefferson County Judge Executive Rebecca Jackson as president, developer David W. Nicklies as vice president/treasurer, and longtime director of Metro Louisville’s Department of Codes and Regulations William Schreck as Secretary. (In a press release last month, Mayor Greg Fischer called Schreck “an extraordinary citizen” for recently coming out of retirement to serve as Interim Director of Public Works.)

Kentuckians for Progress began a crusade they called “an education campaign aimed at highlighting the obstructionist behavior of River Fields, a self-described conservancy group,” that was launched with this advertisement in the Courier-Journal on March 21, 2011:

Oh, and they had a billboard, too. Who didn’t see this over Spaghetti Junction?

Between 2010 and 2011, Kentuckians for Progress, Inc. raised $394,685 in contributions and ended 2011 with $64,599 in the bank.

Kentuckians for Progress, Inc.’s biggest expense was for advertising and marketing to Three Communications, LLC, a company whose two members, according to Kentucky’s Secretary of State, include former Hal Heiner for Mayor campaign manager Joe Burgan, and former executive director of the Kentucky Republican Party Michael Clingaman. The latter is now vice president of Stoneridge Group, a national consultant to Republican campaigns.

Kentuckians for Progress, Inc. has no plans to dissolve their organization at this time.

They issued this statement:

“We’re encouraged to have the suit behind us and excited for the future.  This project is one of the most important infrastructure projects in the country – with the suit behind us, we can get down to the business of moving dirt, pouring concrete and creating much needed jobs for the entire region.” -David Nicklies, Kentuckians for Progress Chairman

Kentuckians for Progress was not involved in the settlement Friday.

KYTC charges on

The secretary and executive director of KYTC signed Friday’s agreement last Wednesday, the same day KYTC optimistically released a news release titled: “Construction Teams Get Go-ahead.” From that release, it appears tree clearing, building demolition and land acquisition are under way:

…Indiana and Kentucky have signed contracts with their respective construction teams, paving the way for pre-construction work including final design, geotechnical drilling and field surveys on both crossings.  Both states are acquiring the remaining parcels of property needed to begin construction in early summer 2013 on both the Downtown and East End Crossings.

Here’s a summary of activities on each crossing:

• East End Crossing
One of the most visible signs of progress on the project will be tree cutting and vacant building demolition along the East End Crossing route starting on or after Tuesday, January 15.  The Indiana Department of Transportation has issued contracts for clearing trees and demolishing vacated buildings within the right-of-way secured for the Ohio River Bridges Project.

Gohmann Construction Inc. of Clarksville, Ind., will perform work in the Utica, Ind., area and Dan Cristiani Excavating, also of Clarksville, will perform work in the Prospect, Ky., area. Due to environmental requirements, trees must be cut before April 1. Impacts to forested areas are being mitigated by planting or preserving additional areas of trees outside of the construction limits.

Following the announcement of Commercial Close, Indiana has issued an initial notice to proceed to WVB East End Partners for the East End Crossing. The team of Walsh Investors, VINCI Concessions, Bilfinger Berger and other regional, national and international firms was selected for its proposal to design and build Indiana’s portion of the Ohio River Bridges Project for $224 million less than estimated and open it to traffic by the end of October 2016. A second and final notice to proceed will be issued following “financial close” on the financial terms of the procurement, which is anticipated in early spring of 2013.

Construction continues on a 3,000-foot extension of Old Salem Road, which broke ground in late August. Gohmann Asphalt and Construction Inc. is pouring concrete, driving steel pilings and placing fill for a 170-foot overpass at the first exit on the Indiana side of the East End Bridge. Contractors are also excavating and blasting to install new drainage pipes.

• Downtown Crossing

Demolition is under way on the former Baer Fabric building in downtown Louisville to make room for the expanded southbound I-65. The vacant, four-story building at 515 E. Market St. is being deconstructed by HCL Demolition to salvage bricks, beams and other building materials for reuse.

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet this week issued notice to proceed to Walsh Construction Co., leader of a “design-build” team that includes local, regional and national firms that will construct the Downtown Crossing.

Walsh will complete design work on the new bridge, interstate connections and geotechnical drilling, and develop staging areas for materials and equipment in the coming weeks.

Walsh’s cost-cutting, time-saving proposal will reduce construction costs by more than $90 million and save more money in financing costs by completing the Downtown Crossing by December 2016, nearly 19 months ahead of schedule.

Yes. You read that correctly. KYTC states the East End Bridge will be completed by October 2016, and the downtown bridge will be completed by December of 2016.


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