The American Trucking Associations (ATA) is asking a federal court to force Rhode Island to stop collecting truck tolls while the group continues to challenge the state’s bridge funding scheme that it considers unconstitutional.
“We are confident that we will prevail on the merits of our challenge, and therefore have asked the court to take this step to stop the ongoing unconstitutional harms these discriminatory tolls are inflicting on the trucking industry every day,” said ATA Deputy General Counsel Rich Pianka in a statement today.
The ATA cleared a legal hurdle earlier this month in its two-year battle against the state’s “RhodeWorks” truck tolling program when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit denied a petition by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, which had asked for a review of an earlier decision by the appeals court in favor of the association. The lawsuit is now back at the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island, where it was initially filed in 2018.
ATA’s petition for a preliminary injunction against the state’s truck tolls is based, among other things, on the group’s assertion that the state adopted the program “with the intent of discriminating against out-of-state and interstate users of the tolled facilities by obligating them to pay a disproportionate share of the expense of maintaining Rhode Island’s bridges,” ATA’s petition states, “and the tolls in fact will have that effect.”
ATA points out that the RhodeWorks system, which currently includes six toll gantries (and ultimately to include 12) has toll caps that makes it function “like a set of flat daily charges for the privilege of using Rhode Island’s bridges and roads.” A truck pays a set, capped amount for traveling the length of I-95 and will pay no more than $40 per day no matter how many miles it drives back and forth through Rhode Island or how many toll gantries it passes that day.
ATA also contends that by imposing the entire cost of repairing and maintaining Rhode Island’s bridges on trucks – which make up a small subset of bridge users – the tolling scheme “guarantees that the operators of tractor-trailers pay a vastly disproportionate share of that cost.”
In addition, according to ATA, the $45 million in payments that Rhode Island estimates it will collect annually once all 12 toll gantries are erected will likely affect the routes that truck drivers use, the prices carriers charge, product availability, “and the amounts paid by consumers in states other than Rhode Island.”