Photo: Bill Blevins via Flickr

Photo: Bill Blevins via Flickr

A federal court has ruled against New York State’s practice of using tolls paid by interstate truckers to finance the unrelated tourism and recreation projects that make up the New York Canal System.

The U.S. District Court ruled that using toll revenue in that way violates the Constitution’s Dormant Commerce Cause because the money is diverted away from interests that actually benefit trucking. The conflicting interests are centered around the Thruway Authority, which charges tolls for the use of several major arteries of interstate commerce but also owns the canal system.

The Thruway Authority has spent over 1.1 billion since 2012 maintaining and funding the canal system, with costs reaching over $100 million annually.

“The canal system is a jewel in the crown of the Empire State, and some combination of New York taxpayers, local businesses benefitting from tourism revenue and the actual users of the Canal System’s many facilities should want to pay for its upkeep,” stated the Court. “But … the State of New York cannot insulate the Canal System from the vagaries of the political process and taxpayer preferences by imposing the cost of its upkeep on those on drive the New York Thruway in interstate commerce.”

American Trucking Associations expressed support for the ruling.

“ATA believed that the courts and Constitution were clear – revenue from tolls must be spent maintaining the roads they’re collected on and not diverted to finance bike paths and waterways for recreational kayaking and canoeing,” said Chris Spear, ATA president and CEO. “We hope today’s ruling will not only end this practice in New York, but dissuade other states from financing their budget shortfalls on the backs of our industry.”