By Nick Goldstein, vice president of regulatory and legal issues, ARTBA
Trucking interests have sued Rhode Island over its “RhodeWorks” tolling program, jeopardizing millions of dollars in toll revenue in the state. The federal district court litigation, which was initiated in early 2020, could have much broader impacts since truck-specific tolling has been eyed as a potential transportation funding mechanism in other states and at the federal level.
The 2016 “RhodeWorks” law authorizes the collection of tolls from large commercial trucks traveling over any state bridge on the National Highway System. Of the 779 bridges in the state, 174, or 22.3 percent, are classified as deficient. Rhode Island collected a total of $7.6 million in toll revenue through RhodeWorks in fiscal years 2018 and 2019.
The American Trucking Associations, as well as other plaintiffs in the case, contend that RhodeWorks law unfairly targets out of state trucks, since smaller trucks that typically operate only within Rhode Island are exempt. By placing the tolling burden mainly on larger, out of state trucks, the plaintiffs claim it violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
State attorneys representing Rhode Island say that Congress has authorized states’ ability to collect tolls and the RhodeWorks program is a lawful extension of that power. Specifically, the state notes that “the toll revenue is needed to repair and maintain a substantial number of structurally deficient bridges for the benefit of not only the motoring public but also those who rely on Rhode Island’s highway infrastructure for travel and the transportation of freight and goods, while imposing only de minimis tolls, ranging from $2.25 to $9.50 on large commercial trucks.”
Following a recent dispute over subpoenas in the case, the litigation is expected to continue throughout 2021. TIAC will continue to monitor this important case and keep you updated.