LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A group that opposes two new planned Ohio River bridges is asking a federal judge to force Indiana and Kentucky to halt spending on the bridges until a federal lawsuit challenging the $2.6 billion project is resolved.
The Coalition for the Advancement of Regional Transportation made the request Wednesday in a motion seeking an injunction filed in federal court in Louisville, Ky. It is the first injunction sought in the lawsuit.
The Courier-Journal of Louisville reports that the coalition wants any spending stopped until a new environmental report is issued or U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II rules in the case. The group wants Heyburn to bar the states from "committing or obligating public funds" or entering into any contracts to clear trees or "any other site work" besides inspection and maintenance of the route of the eastern bridge.
Kentucky Transportation Cabinet spokesman Chuck Wolfe said in a statement that the agency will file a formal response to the group's motion.
"But throughout this project, we have taken pains to ensure that all applicable laws were complied with," Wolfe said.
Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman Will Wingfield said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.
The $2.6 billion project will build two bridges running between Kentucky and Indiana near Louisville and upgrade highway interchanges to ease traffic congestion around the Louisville metropolitan area, which includes parts of southern Indiana.
The coalition argues in court documents that Indiana's intent to award a contract for tree clearing along the eastern bridge route on Oct. 25 — before the lawsuit is resolved — "would cause irreparable damage" to the organization's interests.
It also claims that construction along the route connecting Utica, Ind., with Prospect, Ky., will "unnecessarily destroy endangered bat species maternity habitat" in violation of the Endangered Species Act and will violate the Clean Water Act by sending pollutants from highway runoff into Harrods Creek.
The project also "poses an unqualified risk of catastrophic contamination of a major 70 million gallon per day drinking water intake," the group's motion states.
Kentucky and Indiana are aiming to award the major construction contracts for the project by the end of the year. Construction would begin in early 2013.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Louisville-based conservation group River Fields are also plaintiffs in the lawsuit. They have not requested an injunction on state spending, but have asked Heyburn to rule that the federal approvals for the project are illegal.