PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A national trucking industry trade group filed a lawsuit Tuesday over Rhode Island’s new truck tolls, arguing they unfairly target large commercial tractor-trailers, the only class of vehicles required to pay while traveling on Rhode Island highways.
The suit was filed in federal court in Providence by the Virginia-based American Trucking Associations (ATA). It claims that the RhodeWorks tolls violate the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, by imposing “discriminatory and disproportionate burdens on out-of-state operators and on truckers who are operating in interstate commerce.”
Co-plaintiffs include Cumberland Farms, M&M Transport Services and New England Motor Freight. The Rhode Island Trucking Association is not a plaintiff, but is an affiliate of the ATA.
The sole defendant is listed as Peter Alviti, in his official capacity as director of the R.I. Department of Transportation.
The plaintiffs are asking the court for a judgment that “Rhode Island’s truck-toll scheme is unconstitutional,” an injunction to stop the tolls, and repayment of legal fees.
“RhodeWorks was conceived, designed, constructed and implemented with the intent of placing a weighted financial burden on out-of-state carriers,” said Rhode Island Trucking Association president Chris Maxwell in a news conference about the lawsuit.
The first truck tolls went online on June 11 in two locations in southern Rhode Island, more than two years after Gov. Gina Raimondo’s signature RhodeWorks plan that authorized the tolls was signed into law. The $5-billion infrastructure plan aims to repair and replace bridges and roads in the state over 10 years, with truck tolls covering about 10% of the cost.
“This is a lawsuit we expected,” a RIDOT spokeswoman Lisbeth Pettengill said in a statement. “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.”
The statement also said the tolling program is “meeting or exceeding” performance and revenue expectations, though Pettengill said Tuesday the agency was not yet able to say how much money the two toll locations took in during their first month of operation.
Alviti has argued the large tractor-trailers cause the most damage to the roads, and therefore should contribute more than other vehicles, which still contribute to road improvements through the gas tax and DMV fees.
But the ATA argues in the lawsuit that other vehicles also contribute to the wear-and-tear of the roads, and should be tolled to a certain degree. It points to other states including Massachusetts, New York and Maryland, all of which toll vehicles of all sizes.
The suit also points to the daily caps on the tolls, which it says limits the burden on local truckers that stay in-state, “with the inevitable consequence that the tolls fall disproportionately on interstate truckers.”
“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 interstate travel,” the suit says.
“The business community will ultimately get stuck paying the bill for this ill-conceived tolling scheme,” Maxwell added.
Cumberland Farms, a New England-based convenience store chain that is one of the co-plaintiffs in the case, said in a statement: “These new truck tolls raise important constitutional questions, which deserve their day in court. Cumberland Farms respectfully disagrees with the administration’s perspective here, and now both sides will receive a fair hearing before a neutral judge.”
A total of 14 tolls sites are planned throughout the state. They are expected to be constructed over the next 18 months.