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Councils approve Red Line left turn restrictions as opponents raise legality concerns

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Indy’s Red Line takes another step forward with two of the final city council votes needed.

But the opposition is now publicly questioning the legality of the entire project for the first time, exclusively with CBS4 and our newsgathering partner FOX59.

“It should’ve been caught by the federal officials for sure,” said attorney Kevin B. McCarthy.

McCarthy used to be a transportation specialist attorney for the US House of Representatives and the Secretary of Transportation. He’s now representing some business owners on College Avenue who have been trying to stop the Red Line from being built along College with the current design.

McCarthy’s concern is that IndyGo didn’t do the proper environmental assessments and safety testing the federal government typically requires of projects this big.

“I think because there was a change in administrations, there was a rush to get these projects done, basically,” said McCarthy. “So it’s like they did it without regard, too much regard for the requirements of the law.”

IndyGo’s spokesperson maintains they’ve done their homework.

“We don't feel there are any of those issues,” said Bryan Luellen. “FTA has issued concurrence with our position and our plan.”

The main issue, McCarthy argue, is the foundation of that plan is a “categorical exclusion” for the Red Line project.

“They’re normally used for transit projects that don’t change the physical surroundings so much, said McCarthy. “The National Environmental Policy Act is intended to protect human beings and have anticipation and studies of what changes in their physical surroundings.”

A categorical exclusion allows project planners to skip environmental impact—which includes the urban environment—and months of rigorous safety testing at a facility.

McCarthy argues with a new type of roadway construction for the rapid transit line and new type of vehicle running along it, IndyGo should’ve never expected a categorical exclusion to be approved and the federal government should’ve never allowed it to hold.

But it can be reversed.

These concerns didn’t come up Monday night at city-county council.

Councillors voted 20 to 4 to move and adjust parking to make up for what will be removed on College and Meridian once the Red Line is in. They voted 16 to 7 to restrict left turns and crossing.

While safety concerns regarding the raised barriers for the Red Line that will require these restrictions have been brought up over a two-year period, Luellen says the federal government has thoroughly vetted the project.

“The FTA has been involved with safety reviews, with engineering reviews really since about 2012, said Luellen. “We've been working with the federal transit administration all along the way. The FTA actually funded the early engineering work for this project.”

But given his expertise in the area, McCarthy believes somewhere the ball may have been dropped and he wants to bring it to the federal government’s attention before their money helps support something he says could be dangerous if not properly tested.

“You’ve got the potential for human error by a bus driver, steering a vehicle that at any point could take these buses up over concrete barriers,” said McCarthy. "That’s a problem and that needs to be tested.”

In the meantime, Luellen says they are moving forward based on the verifications they’ve already gotten from the transit administration.

He expects they’ll have a federal funding agreement in place within the next few months.

Then turns and parking will be permanently restricted once construction along each area of the route is completed.

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