A federal judge has denied a transit group’s motion to join a lawsuit that remains a major obstacle to the $4.1 billion Ohio River Bridges Project. In June, the non-profit Coalition for the Advancement of Regional Transportation (CART) had filed a motion to intervene in a pending lawsuit claiming that the Federal Highway Administration violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it approved the project in September 2003.
CART alleged the feds failed to fully and fairly consider public transportation alternatives that “would greatly reduce the need for one of both proposed new bridges and the planned movement and drastic relocation of Spaghetti Junction.” The group further claimed that its many elderly and disabled members, who increasingly depend on public transit, “will continue to suffer injury due to” the highway administration’s “failure to comply with the law.”
CART sought to join a lawsuit by River Fields Inc., a conservation group, and its co-plaintiff, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, filed in September of last year, shortly before the expiration of a six-year statute of limitations.
In court documents, CART conceded it missed the statute of limitations for filing an original action but cited a federal rule of civil procedure in arguing that the court had discretion to allow it to join in because it “has a claim or defense that shares with the main action a common question of fact or law.”
The highway administration, in opposition, argued “the only issue CART and Plaintiffs have in common are very general NEPA claims.”
“There is no basis for finding that CART’s intervening complaint relates back to the original complaint filed in this action,” wrote U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II. “Thus, the court determines that CART’s claims are barred by the applicable statute of limitations and that intervention would be futile.”
The original lawsuit remains in settlement negotiations among the co-plaintiffs, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, the Indiana Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration.
River Fields and the National Trust claim the project was unlawfully approved and injures “their members by denying them (and the public) information that NEPA requires concerning impacts to significant historic properties and environmentally superior alternatives to the adopted action.” Their suit says the proposed eastern Jefferson County bridge will harm an area “characterized by large country estates, gentleman farms, recreational river camps, village hamlets and early African American neighborhoods.”
The lawsuit made news most recently when the Louisville Southern Indiana Ohio River Bridges Authority planned but canceled a controversial closed-door session to discuss it before its last meeting on Sept. 2. The authority, which is not a party to the lawsuit, is subject to open-meetings and open-records laws.
The bi-state authority is expected to formulate a financial plan including tolls by year’s end.
If the plan is developed before the suit is settled, the plaintiffs “will seek injunctive relief prohibiting Defendants from providing any further financial assistance for the Project” until the highway administration complies with the law, according to the complaint.
— story submitted by Steve Shaw