Truckers Fight Rhode Island Tolling Plan

Business and trucking associations have asked a federal circuit court to reject an appeal that would reinstate Rhode Island’s exclusive truck tolling system.

These organizations support the decision made in September by a federal district judge that the plan is illegal.

The 48 State Trucking Associations, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Truckload Carriers Association, Natso, and other groups have all written amicus curiae briefs in support of the American Trucking Associations’ legal action.

Official Court Filing

In a court filing, lawyer Prasad Sharma, who is defending these groups, stated: “Collectively, the amici represent a substantial number of highway users and beneficiaries of the national highway systems, which have played a crucial role in facilitating commerce and driving economic growth in the United States.”

The court brief further stated that Rhode Island chose to make out-of-state consumers face the majority of the financial burden rather than developing a reasonable, user-based plan to fulfill its revenue targets.

The tolling program, known as “RhodeWorks,” was the only one in the U.S. that specifically targeted Class 8 trucks.

Supporters of the American Trucking Associations claim that the scheme, which has been put on hold while the lawsuit is being resolved, imposed tolls only on motor trucks moving through the state.

In 2018, the ATA and two motor carriers filed a lawsuit, claiming that the proposal unfairly exempted in-state vehicles, businesses, and motor carriers while imposing tolls on out-of-state heavy trucks.

On June 13, 2022, the trial for ATA’s case was over after two weeks of testifying.

Discriminatory Court Cases

In September of the previous year, District Judge William Smith found RhodeWorks in violation of the dormant Commerce Clause of the US Constitution.

The judge found that, based on a reasonable calculation of the users’ use of the bridges, the tolling plan did not properly distribute tolls among them. Smith believed that the scheme had a discriminatory intent and result.

On February 10, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation appealed Smith’s ruling that the program was illegal to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. Additionally, they requested that the court hear oral arguments in the matter.

The U.S. Chamber stressed the importance of the matter to its business members, who conduct commerce across the country and rely on interstate trucking, in their amicus brief opposing the appeal.

The Chamber argued that the tolling system suggested by the state agency clearly displayed purposeful discrimination and unduly burdened interstate trade.

According to the brief, Rhode Island legislators changed their course in response to protectionist worries with the intention of protecting regional firms at the expense of those from other states, which is unlawful.

In Summary

The Chamber cautioned that if RhodeWorks was upheld, other states would follow suit and enact discriminatory toll structures to finance regional initiatives by extorting money from out-of-state business interests.

The Chamber contended that such an event would disrupt and undercut the framework for national free trade created by the Commerce Clause.

The appeals court has not yet specified whether or when it will set a date for the oral arguments in the case.

Please contact us if you have any questions regarding this topic or any others in domestic logistics. In addition, stay up to date with weekly headlines from both trucking and rail via our Road Map newsletter. 

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