First Circuit allows ATA lawsuit against RhodeWorks truck-only tolls

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A ruling from the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has allowed an American Trucking Associations (ATA) lawsuit against a Rhode Island truck-only toll to move forward in federal court.

The ATA, which is suing alongside Cumberland Farms Inc., M&M Transport Services Inc., and New England Motor Freight, immediately applauded the decision.

“We have long believed that Rhode Island’s RhodeWorks truck-only toll scheme was a violation of the Constitution and an attempt to use our industry as a piggy bank,” ATA President and CEO Chris Spear said. “Today’s decision by the First Circuit paves the way for us to make that argument in federal court, and we look forward to the chance to vindicate our case on the merits.”

Rhode Island’s RhodeWorks program went into effect last year, intending to generate revenue for road and bridge improvements in-state via tolls charged to freight trucks on I-95. On its website, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) blames almost all vehicle-created road damage on large commercial trucks and notes that Rhode Island ranks dead last in the nation for overall bridge condition, as well as being one of the only states in the northeast not to charge user fees on such vehicles.

ATA promptly filed suit, arguing that RhodeWorks violates the Constitution’s Commerce Clause through discrimination against out-of-state economic interests in apparent favoritism of in-state interests, designing tolls that improperly approximate motorists’ road usage. The state wanted the case thrown out under the federal Tax Injunction Act that keeps federal courts from hearing challenges to state taxes. Still, the First Circuit said that RhodeWorks tolls do not qualify as a tax and can be federally challenged. This counters a federal judge’s ruling in March, which stated the case needed to be heard at the state level.

“Today’s ruling is just another step in getting these extortionary tolls torn down, and we would urge the governor and her allies to do the right thing and put an end to this unfair and unconstitutional toll scheme so we can get serious about working together on how to equitably and effectively rebuild our infrastructure,” Chris Maxwell, Rhode Island Trucking Association President, said. “With this ruling in hand, we are confident we will prevail in this suit once it is decided on the merits.”