The American Trucking Associations (ATA), along with Cumberland Farms Inc., M&M Transport Services Inc. and New England Motor Freight, asked a federal court to rule Rhode Island’s RhodeWorks truck-only toll scheme unconstitutional, arguing it discriminates against interstate trucking companies and impedes the flow of interstate commerce.
“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,” ATA President and CEO Chris Spear said in a statement. “It is unfortunate that Governor Raimondo and her administration did not heed those warnings, but now we will see them in court.”
In the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island, ATA and the motor carriers argue that the RhodeWorks plan violates the Constitution’s Commerce Clause by discriminating against out-of-state trucking companies, and by designing the tolls in a way that does not fairly approximate motorists’ use of the roads.
“This toll regime was designed to, and does in fact, impose discriminatory and disproportionate burdens on out-of-state operators and on truckers who are operating in interstate commerce. By design, the tolls fall exclusively on the types of trucks that are most likely to be engaged in the interstate transport of cargo, while exempting automobiles and the smaller vehicles that are relatively more likely to be engaged in intrastate travel,” the complaint said. “The toll program also limits the tolls collected from trucks that make multiple trips within Rhode Island in a single day, a feature that was expressly intended to, and does in fact, provide disproportionate benefits to Rhode Island operators and those engaged in intrastate commerce.”
ATA, NATSO, the Rhode Island Trucking Association and the Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates (ATFI) have voiced strong opposition to the tolls since the state first approved its RhodeWorks plan.
Federal law generally prohibits new tolls on existing interstate highway lanes. In an unprecedented bureaucratic maneuver, RhodeWorks authorized the Rhode Island Department of Transportation to toll commercial vehicles across bridges within the state using an exemption that allows states to charge tolls for ailing bridges. Although revenue is supposed to go toward funding the repair and replacement of bridges throughout the state, there are no legal requirements that the money raised be used in this manner.
RIDOT opened the first two of 14 truck-only tolling gantries on Interstate 95 in June. The first two gantries are located between exits 2 and 5 and cost truck drivers a total of $6.75.
NATSO President and CEO Lisa Mullings joined Chris Maxwell, President of the Rhode Island Trucking Association, at an informational rally in 2016 where Mullings said that the RhodeWorks plan represents nothing more than a shakedown of businesses that provide jobs and support local towns and communities.
Truck-only tolls will significantly increase the costs of shipped goods and divert trucks off of the interstate onto local roads. The tolls will have serious negative effects for local businesses, which will have to pay more for the goods that they sell, as well as Rhode Island towns and communities that rely on these businesses' tax revenue to grow and thrive.
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