AASHTO Journal

Lawsuit Launched over Rhode Island Truck-Only Tolls

The trade group American Trucking Associations, along with three individual motor carriers, filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island on July 10 in an effort aimed at getting Rhode Island's truck-only tolling program declared "unconstitutional" as it "discriminates against interstate trucking companies and impedes the flow of interstate commerce."

That tolling effort is part of the state's "RhodeWorks" program passed and signed into law on February 11, 2016 – a 10-year, $4.7 billion investment effort designed to upgrade Rhode Island's transportation system, but especially its highway bridges, in part by using monies generated by truck-only tolls in select locations.

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation implemented a tractor-trailer-only all-electronic tolling system at two locations along I-95 on June 11, with the remaining tolling locations expected to come on line over the next 18 months.

071318rhodeworks.jpgThat truck-only toll revenue is expected to provide a "reliable, dedicated source of revenue to fund the reconstruction of the bridges at those two sites," RIDOT said, with the toll for Location 1 set at $3.25 and the toll for Location 2 at $3.50. For tractor-trailers equipped with transponders such as E-ZPass, tolls will be limited to once per day, per direction, the agency added, and for tractor-trailers without a transponder, video detection systems generate an invoice for the registered owner of the vehicle.

[Side note: on July 12, the agency opened its environmental assessment for toll locations 3, 4, and 6 through 13 on I-95, I-195, I-295, US Route 6, and RI Route 146 for public comment; a comment period that will close on August 11.]

RIDOT also executed several memoranda of understanding or "MOUs" with the Federal Highway Administration more than two years ago prior to launching its truck-only toll plan, ensuring that "the federal government agrees the toll project meets the toll eligibility requirements" of applicable federal law.

But in its lawsuit, ATA – along with Cumberland Farms Inc., M&M Transport Services Inc. and New England Motor Freight – argues that the RhodeWorks plan violates the U.S. Constitution's "Commerce Clause" by discriminating against out-of-state trucking companies and by designing tolls in a way that "does not fairly approximate" motorist 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," the complaint said.

"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," it noted. "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."

RIDOT responded in a written statement that the "tractor-trailer tolling program is meeting or exceeding our performance and revenue expectations. It will benefit the users of Rhode Island's bridges and ensure they are repaired and paid for in a fair and equitable manner."

The agency added that, "this is a lawsuit we expected. We are prepared to defend the tractor-trailer truck-only tolling program and have been prepared to do so for three years. We are confident that we will prevail. Pending resolution of this legal matter in court, we have no further comment."

Questions regarding this article may be directed to editor@aashtojournal.org.

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