ATA says highway tolls shouldn't go to pay for upkeep of New York's canal system, like the Erie Canal.

ATA says highway tolls shouldn't go to pay for upkeep of New York's canal system, like the Erie Canal.

American Trucking Associations filed a lawsuit challenging the New York State Thruway Authority’s diversion of millions of dollars of toll revenues every year to maintain the tourism and recreational facilities that make up the New York Canal System.

ATA says the suit sends a message to toll authorities nationwide that use highway tolls as a piggybank for unrelated projects.

The Thruway Authority charges tolls for the use of several major arteries of interstate commerce. Since 1992, the Thruway Authority has owned the state’s Canal System and as of 2012 had maintained and improved it to the tune of over $1.1 billion. In recent years, rising costs have reached over $100 million annually.

“The Canal System generates plenty of economic activity for nearby towns, drawing hundreds of millions of tourism dollars to surrounding communities every year. But those who benefit from the canals pay a tiny fraction of their upkeep,” said Richard Pianka, chief counsel of the ATA Litigation Center. “This amounts to a serious burden on interstate commerce, and is prohibited by the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.”

The lawsuit contends that the Thruway’s toll rates violate the Commerce Clause because they “are not based on a fair approximation of commercial truckers’ use of the Thruway,” and “are excessive in relation to the benefits conferred on commercial truckers for paying those tolls.”

The New York State Canal System consists of four historic waterways, the Erie, the Champlain, the Oswego and the Cayuga-Seneca Canals. Spanning 524 miles, the waterways link the Hudson River, Lake Champlain, Lake Ontario, the Finger Lakes, Niagara River and Lake Erie. 

The lawsuit, American Trucking Associations, Inc., et al. v. New York State Thruway Authority, et al.¸ was filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. ATA is represented by the ATA Litigation Center and by Evan M. Tager, Richard B. Katskee and Thomas P. Wolf of Mayer Brown LLP.

Learn more about the issue in the video below from ATA's legal counsel: