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Refrigeratedtransporter 4726 Rhode Island Highway Tolls Ata 5e00ca36da24f

Federal judge deems R.I. truck-only tolls unconstitutional

Sept. 22, 2022
U.S. District Judge William Smith ruled that Rhode Island’s truck-only tolls violate the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. American Trucking Associations was quick to hail the decision.

After four years, the trucking industry won a legal battle against a truck-only tolls scheme in the state of Rhode Island.

In a 91-page decision, U.S. District Judge William Smith ruled that Rhode Island’s truck-only tolls violate the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, the Boston Globe reported on Sept. 21. American Trucking Associations (ATA) was quick to hail the court’s ruling.

“We told Rhode Island’s leaders from the start that their crazy scheme was not only discriminatory but illegal,” ATA president and CEO Chris Spear said in a press release. “We’re pleased the court agreed. To any state looking to target our industry, you better bring your A-game … because we’re not rolling over.”

See also: ATA hails appeals court decision on Rhode Island tolls lawsuit

Back in 2018, ATA, along with Cumberland Farms Inc., M&M Transport Services Inc., and New England Motor Freight, sued Rhode Island, arguing that the state’s RhodeWorks plan violates the Constitution’s Commerce Clause by discriminating against out-of-state economic interests in order to favor in-state interests, and by designing the tolls in a way that does not fairly approximate motorists’ use of the roads.

“It has been a long road to get to this point," said Chris Maxwell, Rhode Island Trucking Association's president. “But this is a tremendous day for our industry—not just here in Rhode Island, but across the country. Had we not prevailed, these tolls would have spread across the country and this ruling sends a strong signal to other states that trucking is not to be targeted as a piggy bank.”

In June 2018, Rhode Island began charging tractor-trailers to drive on Interstate 95 under its Rhode Island Bridge Replacement, Reconstruction and Maintenance Fund Act, better known as RhodeWorks. The plan authorized the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) to toll large commercial trucks to fund, in part, the replacement or reconstruction of bridges throughout the state. RhodeWorks was originally signed into law by then-Gov. Gina Raimondo (now the U.S. commerce secretary under the Biden administration) in February 2016.

See also: R.I. starts truck-only tolls: Groups vow to fight

RIDOT set a projected revenue goal of about $45 million per year from its RhodeWorks plan and estimated it would use roughly 10% of the total to fund bridge repairs needed throughout the state. Ultimately, RhodeWorks directed the state to set and collect tolls from Class 8 trucks only.

“This is a strong ruling that provides our industry a significant win on a critical issue,” Rich Pianka, ATA’s general counsel, stated. “This ruling vindicates ATA’s contention that the Constitution prohibits states from tolling schemes targeted at the trucking industry, at the expense of interstate commerce.”

It's unclear whether Rhode Island will appeal the judge's ruling this week against the state's tolling system.

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