Friday, December 6, 2019

Trucking Lobby Wins First Round in Legal Battle Over 'Unfair' Road Tolls

Matter Referred to Federal Court
Shipping News Feature

US – The American Trucking Associations (ATA) has hailed a decision by the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit that held the trucking group’s lawsuit with regards to Rhode Island's truck only tolls could proceed in federal court.

The ATA, along with Cumberland Farms Inc., M&M Transport Services Inc. and New England Motor Freight (an LTL carrier which appears to have ceased trading after voluntarily filing for relief under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code in February), has sued Rhode Island, arguing that the RhodeWorks plan violates the Constitution’s Commerce Clause by discriminating against out-of-state economic interests in order to favour in state interests, and by designing the tolls in a way that does not fairly approximate motorists’ use of the roads.

The First Circuit ruled this week that, despite the state’s assertion, ATA’s lawsuit was not barred by the federal Tax Injunction Act, which generally prohibits federal courts from hearing challenges to state taxes. Today, the First Circuit held that the RhodeWorks tolls are not a ‘tax’ and thus not immune from challenge in federal court. ATA President and CEO Chris Spear commented:

“We have long believed that Rhode Island’s RhodeWorks truck-only toll scheme was a violation of the Constitution and an attempt to use our industry as a piggy bank. Today’s decision by the First Circuit paves the way for us to make that argument in federal court and we look forward to the chance to vindicate our case on the merits.”

Rhode Island Trucking Association President Chris Maxwell added that the ruling was just another step in eliminating what the ATA sees as extortionate tolls, continuing:

We would urge the governor and her allies to do the right thing and put an end to this unfair and unconstitutional toll scheme so we can get serious about working together on how to equitably and effectively rebuild our infrastructure. With this ruling in hand, we are confident we will prevail in this suit once it is decided on the merits.”

The first of Rhode Island’s truck only tolls were introduced in June 2018 after months of delays, the first of 13 such proposed revenue collectors planned to roll out throughout the state in the following months. The Rhode Island Department of Transport (RIDOT) said last year that over 20% of bridges in the state were ‘structurally deficient’ and the Governor, Gina Raimondo, reportedly supported the toll programme which analysts said could raise up to $4.7 billion for infrastructure repairs.

Photo: Trucking group M&M Transport supported the ATA lawsuit.