Federal Court Ruling Deals Blow To Truck-Only Tolls In RI

Aaron Kupec
December 06, 2019 - 10:52 am

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BOSTON, Mass. (WTIC and AP) - As Connecticut debates highway tolls for only trucks, a federal appeals court has backed the trucking industry in its legal fight to end Rhode Island's truck tolls.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday reversed a lower court ruling to dismiss the suit. The lower court in March said it lacked jurisdiction and the case should be heard in state court.

The appeals court said the tolls Rhode Island started charging on its highways last year are not state taxes protected under federal law from federal court review.

``When we look at whether the word ``tax'' was then understood to include tolls, we find something of a mixed bag, albeit one quite heavily loaded in favor of treating tolls as something other than taxes,'' Judge William Kayatta wrote.

The ruling sends the case back to U.S. District Court.

"I would think that this should help pump the brakes on any truck-only tolls legislation in Connecticut," said Joe Sculley, president of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut. He adds that litigation would be an option in Connecticut as well.

Governor Ned Lamont is downplaying the ruling. “Yesterday’s federal circuit court decision in Rhode Island was merely a procedural ruling regarding whether this case should be heard in a federal or state court – nothing more.  It did not decide on, or even address, the merits of the case," Lamont said in a statement Friday.

The Rhode Island suit was brought by the American Trucking Associations and three trucking companies that allege the toll plan violates the U.S. Constitution's Commerce Clause by discriminating against out-of-state economic interests in favor of in-state interests.

Thursday's ruling ``is just another step in getting these extortionary tolls torn down`` Rhode Island Trucking Association President Chris Maxwell said in a statement.

Rhode Island maintains the tolls are legal and essential to maintaining state infrastructure.