Rhode Island’s “Unconstitutional, Truck-Only Tolling Scheme” Facing Another Court Battle
Providence, Rhode Island – The American Trucking Associations (ATA), along with three motor carriers representing the industry, has filed an appeal after a federal district court judge in Rhode Island dismissed their challenge to Rhode Island’s RhodeWorks truck-only toll scheme.
Why Was The Case Dismissed?
Citing a lack of jurisdiction, Federal judge William Smith, dismissed ATA’s lawsuit last month. Judge Smith’s determination was that the truck-only tolls actually constitute a “tax” under the state’s Tax Injunction Act (TIA), and therefore the federal court lacks jurisdiction to hear such a case.
Judge Smith explained his ruling by saying, “Although not referred to as ‘taxes’ in the authorizing legislation, the tolls were enacted with the express intention of raising revenues to cover a long-standing infrastructure ‘funding gap.’”
Further, Smith indicated that though the fees in this case are referred to as ‘tolls,’ they “are really a highly targeted and sophisticated tax designed to fund infrastructure maintenance and improvements that would otherwise need to be paid for by other forms of tax-generated revenue.”
What Is ATA Arguing?
ATA contends that Rhode Island’s truck-only toll scheme is unconstitutional because it discriminates against interstate trucking companies and impedes the flow of interstate commerce.
Further, ATA argues the district court failed to address the merits of the constitutional claim in its March 19, 2019, decision to dismiss the case. Instead, it held only that ATA’s challenge could not proceed in federal court.
“Since RhodeWorks was first proposed, the trucking industry has been strong and united in opposition to this extortionate plan. We’ve warned politicians in Rhode Island that these truck-only tolls were unconstitutional and should be rolled back,” said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear.
“It is unfortunate that Governor Raimondo and her administration did not heed those warnings. While we are disappointed the district court’s decision means further delay in seeing these tolls rolled back, our appeal of the dismissal of our case on a technicality should demonstrate to the state that this fight is by no means over, and we look forward to establishing the unconstitutionality of Rhode Island’s discriminatory tolls on the merits,” Spear commented.
Chris Maxwell, president of the Rhode Island Trucking Association, said the trucking industry is a willing partner in “long-overdue infrastructure investment,” but refuses to be singled out and taken advantage of. “Instead of considering our perspective, Rhode Island’s leaders, led by Governor Raimondo, marginalized us, dismissed us and chose the unfortunate path of designing, building and executing an unlawful and unequitable scheme of truck-only tolling,” Maxwell argued.
He continued, “Meanwhile, Rhode Island continues to invest already scarce infrastructure resources on toll gantries knowing they are likely to have their toll scheme overturned by the courts.”
How Much Funding Is At Stake?
The tolls are expected to bring in $500 million over 10 years to help rebuild crumbling state infrastructure. “The tolls collected at each location in Rhode Island will go to repair the bridge or bridge group associated with that toll location,” RIDOT spokeswoman Lisbeth Pettengill said at the time of the plan’s announcement. “The rationale behind the RhodeWorks tolling program was to toll the vehicles that caused the damage that needs to be repaired.”
Transportation Nation Network will continue to bring you the latest developments on this court challenge.