Trucking industry representatives are appealing a federal judge’s decision to toss their lawsuit against Rhode Island’s truck-only tolling program.
American Trucking Associations filed the appeal March 28, after the U.S. District Court of Rhode Island announced the lawsuit’s dismissal March 19.
ATA’s lawsuit contesting the constitutionality of truck-only tolling was filed jointly with Cumberland Farms Inc. and M&M Transport Services Inc. on July 10.
New England Motor Freight also was part of the lawsuit but has since declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and shut down operations.
Chief Judge William Smith’s decision concluded that the case needed to be heard in the state’s court system. ATA and the carriers are appealing his decision on the grounds that the case was dismissed on a technicality and claim that the district court did not address the lawsuit’s merits.
“We’ve warned politicians in Rhode Island that these truck-only tolls were unconstitutional and should be rolled back,” ATA President Chris Spear said in a statement. “It is unfortunate that [Rhode Island] Gov. [Gina] 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.”
The federal court’s dismissal marked a victory for Rhode Island Department of Transportation Director Peter Alviti, who in August had filed a motion to have the lawsuit dismissed. In his plea for the suit’s dismissal, Alviti cited the Tax Injunction Act and the 11th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Raimondo (Steven Senne/Associated Press)
The Tax Injunction Act restricts the power of federal district courts to prevent the collection or enforcement of state taxes. The 11th Amendment states that the country’s federal judicial power shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by citizens of another state, or by citizens or subjects of any foreign state.
The truck-only tolling system is part of Raimondo’s RhodeWorks program, which is projected to generate $4.7 billion to finance infrastructure projects such as bridge replacements and road improvements. According to RIDOT, about 22% of the state’s bridges are structurally deficient.
The first two (of an eventual 13) truck-tolling gantries in Rhode Island became operational June 11. They are located in Hopkinton and Exeter, which are on the state’s border with Connecticut.
Under Rhode Island’s toll system, a hauler within the state who needed to pass through one gantry repeatedly for dispatches would be charged less than a trucker moving through the state who encountered multiple gantries.
ATA’s lawsuit argued that truck-only tolls discriminate against interstate commerce. If a state charges a user fee for access to channels of interstate commerce, that fee has to be a fair approximation of use and cannot discriminate between in-state and out-of-state interests.
“From the outset of this debate, Rhode Island’s trucking industry and business community stepped forward as viable partners for long-overdue infrastructure investment in our state,” Rhode Island Trucking Association President Chris Maxwell said. “Instead of considering our perspective, Rhode Island’s leaders, led by Gov. Raimondo, marginalized us, dismissed us and chose the unfortunate path of designing, building and executing an unlawful and unequitable scheme of truck-only tolling.”