Truckers traveling along I-95 and other highways through Rhode Island have been paying tolls targeted towards them since 2018, but the U.S. District Court says that this must go on no longer.
Since RhodeWork’s initial planning in 2015 the state has implemented twelve toll booth locations, with a thirteenth along the way had the U.S. District Court not intervened.
The presiding judge ruled that Rhode Island had violated the Constitution’s Commerce Clause by discriminating against out-of-state economic interests.
“Because RhodeWorks fails to fairly apportion its tolls among bridge users based on a fair approximation of their use of the bridges, was enacted with a discriminatory purpose, and is discriminatory in effect, the statute’s tolling regime is unconstitutional under the dormant Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution,” Judge William Smith wrote in the ruling.
Industry organizations have applauded the decision, with Rhode Island Trucking Association President Chris Maxwell saying, “Had we not prevailed, these tolls would have spread across the country, and this ruling sends a strong signal to other states that trucking is not to be targeted as a piggy bank.”
There is a drawback to the verdict, however: the U.S. District Court has issued RhodeWorks to cease operations, but has not demanded repayment to the truckers who were required to use them to travel on Rhode Island’s roads while the toll booths were active. While the toll booths were challenged immediately, the arduous process of litigation gave Rhode Island over three years of time to collect toll revenue, which is over $100 million. The fact that the state can collect and pocket that money through means later found to be illegitimate implies that as long as the debate can be stalled in court, the tolls are fair game. Contrary to what Chris Maxwell says, we may see similar toll booths appear in other states soon.
Even if we do not see another truck only toll booth, similar legislation that disproportionately stands against out-of-state interests such as Vehicle Miles Traveled taxes or outright banning the parking of trucks is extremely popular with lawmakers at the moment. The legal battle to keep the trucking industry free of unnecessary burdens is never ending.
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