A federal court decision in the American Trucking Association’s lawsuit against the state of Rhode Island for what it claims are unconstitutional truck-only tolls for out-of-state tractor trailers is expected in September, according to Christopher Maxwell, executive director of the Rhode Island Trucking Association.

The decision by Judge William Smith will come four years after the suit was first filed by the American Trucking Association, and seven years since the truck-only tolls were imposed by the state as a way of helping fund a $4.7 billion RhodeWorks infrastructure road and bridge project. The case was heard by Smith in May and concluded on June 13, Maxwell said.

At issue is whether the state was justified in imposing tolls solely on out of state tractor trailers. The Trucking Association, while conceding large trucks likely cause the most damage, maintain that other vehicles, including cars, also contribute to the deterioration.

When the legislature approved the tolling legislation it excluded cars, state businesses, and intrastate motor carriers.

Court remedies, Maxwell said, are clear cut, either allow truck only tolls or not. Whichever way the judge rules, Maxwell said he anticipates the losing side to appeal to the First Circuit Cout of Appeals in Boston.

If the court rules in favor of the Trucking Association, the legislature faces the dilemma of whether to extend tolls to now excluded categories or end the program, Maxwell said.

If the judge rules against the Trucking Association, Maxwell expects “wide-ranging ramifications” that “can open up a can of worms,” with areas around the country looking to similar programs to increase revenues.

In the suit, the American Trucking Association said RhodeWorks plan violates the Constitution’s Commerce Clause by discriminating against out-of-state trucking companies by designing the tolls that does not fairly approximate motorists’ use of the roads.

“The toll regime was designed to, and does in fact, impose discriminatory and disproportionate burdens on out-of-state operators and on truckers who are operating in interstate commerce,” the Trucking Association said.

At the hearing in June, the state said the Trucking Association was asking the court to “second-guess” the legislature on how it wanted to improve what was considered the worst roads and bridges in the country. 

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Frank Prosnitz

Frank Prosnitz brings to WhatsUpNewp several years in journalism, including 10 as editor of the Providence (RI) Business News and 14 years as a reporter and bureau manager at the Providence (RI) Journal. Prosnitz began his journalism career as a sportswriter at the Asbury Park (NJ) Press, moving to The News Tribune (Woodbridge, NJ), before joining the Providence Journal. Prosnitz hosts the Morning Show on WLBQ radio (Westerly), 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday, and It’s Your Business, also on WBLQ, Monday and Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Prosnitz has twice won Best in Business Awards from the national Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW), twice was named Media Advocate of the Year by the Small Business Administration, won an investigative reporter’s award from the New England Press Association, and newswriting award from the Rhode Island Press Association.