August 28,2018 | Eleanor Lamb | Transport Topics
Rhode Island is seeking a dismissal of a lawsuit over its new truck-tolling program, asking a federal court to intervene.
Peter Alviti, director of the state’s Department of Transportation, filed a motion to dismiss American Trucking Associations’ lawsuit against the trucks-only tolls, which have been cropping up throughout the state since June. The revenue from the tolls is earmarked for upkeep of the state’s roads and bridges.
RELATED: ATA, carriers sue Rhode Island DOT over truck-only tolls.
Filed Aug. 24 in the U.S. District Court of Rhode Island, the motion states that the plaintiffs are asking the court “to do something that is not only extraordinary but something that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction to do.”
Alviti cited the Tax Injunction Act and the 11th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to bolster RIDOT’s argument. The Tax Injunction Act restricts the power of federal district courts to prevent the collection or enforcement of state taxes. The 11th Amendment states that the country’s federal judicial power shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by citizens of another state, or by citizens or subjects of any foreign state.
“This court lacks subject matter jurisdiction because the tolls at issue constitute a tax for purposes of the Tax Injunction Act and Rhode Island state courts furnish an adequate alternative to a federal court remedy,” the motion states.
The motion is a response to the lawsuit filed on July 10 by ATA, Cumberland Farms Inc., M&M Transport Services Inc. and New England Motor Freight contesting the constitutionality of Rhode Island’s trucks-only tolling program. The lawsuit maintains that truck tolls discriminate against interstate commerce. If a state charges a user fee for access to channels of interstate commerce, that fee has to be a fair approximation of use and cannot discriminate between in-state and out-of-state interests.
Under Rhode Island’s toll system, a hauler within the state who needed to pass through one gantry repeatedly for dispatches would be charged less than a trucker moving through the state who encountered multiple gantries.
“Rhode Island’s motion does not attempt to refute the argument that the RhodeWorks toll scheme discriminates against the trucking industry,” an ATA spokesman said, referencing the name of the state initiative. “We look forward to our day in court and demonstrating that this financing scheme is not only harmful to our industry and to the economy of Rhode Island, but that it is also unconstitutional.”
The first two (of an eventual 13) truck-tolling gantries in Rhode Island became operational on June 11. They are located in Hopkinton and Exeter, both of which toe the state’s border with Connecticut. The Hopkinton toll is $3.25, and the Exeter toll is $3.50. The tolls are limited to one charge per facility, per day in each direction and do not exceed $40 per day.
Within a month, the tolls had brought in $625,989, according to RIDOT, which is $27,322 more than the agency projected.
The revenue is meant to maintain all bridges “in structurally sound and good condition,” according to the motion.
Gov. Gina Raimondo called for truck tolling in the RhodeWorks program, which is projected to generate $4.7 billion to finance infrastructure projects such as bridge replacements and road improvements. According to RIDOT, about 22% of the 1,162 bridges in the state are structurally deficient.