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July 15, 2019 4:45 PM, EDT

Rhode Island Truck Tolls Exceed Revenue Projections in First Year

Rhode Island truck toll A truck passes under one of the tolling gantries in Rhode Island. (WJAR.com)

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Rhode Island’s truck tolling program brought in $7.2 million in its first year, slightly exceeding revenue expectations.

The state’s controversial trucks-only tolling program has been in effect since June 2018.

Rhode Island Department of Transportation spokeswoman Heidi Gudmundson said revenue from the first year of the program is higher than the $7 million agency officials thought the tolls would raise.

The third truck-tolling gantry (of an eventual 13) was installed on U.S. Route 6 in Providence on July 9, according to Gudmundson. The gantry will become operational in August. The first two gantries are located in Hopkinton and Exeter, which are on the state’s border with Connecticut. The tolls are limited to one charge per facility, per day in each direction and do not exceed $40 per day.

“We’re on schedule for about one [gantry] every month until next spring,” Gudmundson said.

Raimondo

The truck-only tolling system is part of Gov. Gina 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.

Gudmundson said the first year of tolling has gone “smoothly,” but the program has provoked an ongoing legal battle between RIDOT and the trucking industry.

American Trucking Associations, Cumberland Farms Inc. and M&M Transport Services Inc. filed a lawsuit in July 2018 contesting the constitutionality of trucks-only tolls. New England Motor Freight also was part of the lawsuit but has since declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and shut down operations.

ATA’s lawsuit argued that trucks-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.

Truck Tolls Lawsuit

Alviti

The U.S. District Court of Rhode Island dismissed the suit in March, a decision that ATA has appealed. The federal court’s dismissal marked a victory for RIDOT 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.

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.

Rhode Island Trucking Association President Chris Maxwell, who has repeatedly decried the tolls, said the program remains unconstitutional, despite its financial success.

“As I’ve stated before, RIDOT’s ongoing reports of greater-than-expected revenue performance and lack of truck diversion have absolutely nothing to do with the constitutionality of this scheme,” Maxwell said. “We remain steadfast in our legal opposition to truck-only tolling.”