Trucking groups slammed the tolling plan as soon as it was proposed in 2015. Nevertheless, a modified version was signed into law in 2016, requiring 18-wheelers to pay up to $20 to cross the state traveling on Interstate 95. A single truck would be capped at paying $40 a day.
The tolls were intended to finance a 10-year plan to repair deteriorating bridges in the Ocean State; Rhode Island has the highest percentage of structurally deficient bridges in the country. The tolls, to be collected electronically via 14 gantries, were expected to bring in around $45 million a year.
In 2018, the American Trucking Associations, along with Cumberland Farms Inc., M&M Transport Services Inc., and New England Motor Freight, sued Rhode Island, arguing that the RhodeWorks plan violates the Constitution’s Commerce Clause by discriminating against out-of-state economic interests in order to favor in-state interests, and by designing the tolls in a way that does not fairly approximate motorists’ use of the roads.
Over the next couple of years, the case bounced from courtroom to courtroom as a battle was waged over whether it belonged in state or federal court.
This week, U.S. District Court Judge William E. Smith ruled the system unconstitutional and ordered the state to stop charging tractor trailers within 48 hours, according to the Providence Journal.
“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,” Smith wrote in the ruling.
ATA and the state trucking association hailed the decision.
“It has been a long road to get to this point," said Rhode Island Trucking Association President Chris Maxwell, in a news releaes, “but this is a tremendous day for our industry — not just here in Rhode Island, but across the country. 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.”
ATA General Counsel Rich Pianka called it "a strong ruling that provides our industry a significant win on a critical issue. This ruling vindicates ATA’s contention that the Constitution prohibits states from tolling schemes targeted at the trucking industry, at the expense of interstate commerce.”