Rhode Island’s Trucking Toll Ruled Unconstitutional: A Triumph for Trucking

The wittingly named “RhodeWorks”, Rhode Island’s truck-only tolling program, has been ruled by a federal judge to be discriminatory against heavy trucks and ordered the state to stop charging truckers under the system.

“Rhodeworks” was designed to fund highway and bridge projects for the United States’ smallest state by levying a toll out of the pockets of trucking exclusively. Stakeholders, like the International Bridge, Tunnel, and Turnpike Association, argued heavy trucks are responsible for most of the damage done to Rhode Island’s bridges.

In 2019, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) reported 22.3 percent (174 bridges) of Rhode Island’s 779 bridges were classified as structurally deficient. The reported percentage pinned Rhode Island ahead of all states in structurally deficient bridges.

Since the launch of “Rhodeworks” in 2018, Rhode Island has collected some $101 million in truck tolls across dozen toll locations. The Providence Journal estimates the state could now lose $40 million annually in revenue.

The long-winded 91-page ruling was released September 21. U.S. District Court Judge William E. Smith ordered Rhode Island officials to surrender the program and refrain from collecting further truck tolls within two days.

Quick to note Rhode Island’s modest size as “little more than a smudge on the fast lane to Cape Cod”, Smith wrote tolling out-of-state trucks placed an unconstitutional burden on interstatecommerce.

Smith reasoned the “Rhodeworks” toll program unfairly bestows a burden onto a particular user (commercial trucks) of the state’s bridges and their use of them does not justify such a charge. He deemed it was enacted with “a discriminatory purpose” and is unconstitutional under the United States’ Commerce Clause.

 The resting giant that is the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution is an enumerated power that grants federal powers to regulate interstate and foreign commerce.

ATA, Trucking Industry Cheer on the Ruling

Unsurprisingly, the trucking industry has been outspoken in its opposition to this toll program since it was implemented in 2018. Truck drivers, depending on which bridges they traversed, could accrue fees up to $40 in bridge tolls a day.

Trucking’s typical champion, the American Trucking Associations (ATA), sued Rhode Island over the program in 2018.

From the start, the ATA viewed “Rhodeworks” as essentially a scheme concocted with discriminatory and illegal advances. And this sentiment remained unperturbed.

Our experts at Commerce Express Inc. cannot confirm, but we have a hunch that on September 21 bottles of bubbly were popped in Suite 800 on 80 M Street in Washington, D.C, the headquarters of ATA.

Released hours after the ruling, ATA’s President and CEO Chris Spear captured the totality of the organization’s triumph in a statement: “We’re pleased the court agreed. To any state looking to target our industry, you better bring you’re a-game…because we’re not rolling over”.

Even if some celebrations are private, trucking saw a significant win on a critical issue.

Final Thoughts

While it’s just one specific case, rulings of this nature—one where constitutional powers protecting interstate commerce are reinforced—unearth solid legal footing for trucking to contest future issues in respects to state programs that draw industry ire.

Contact one of our team members if you have any questions regarding this topic or any others in domestic logistics.

This is an everchanging industry. Stay current on rail and trucking developments with our weekly Road Map Newsletter.

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