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Judge orders Rhode Island to stop collecting truck-only tolls within 48 hours

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The trucking industry won a significant victory on Wednesday when a federal judge ordered Rhode Island to stop collecting tolls from trucks as part of the controversial “RhodeWorks” program.

On Wednesday, Judge William Smith ruled in favor of the American Trucking Associations (ATA) and other trucking groups in a lawsuit filed in 2018 against the Rhode Island Department of Transportation and other agencies over truck-only toll collection. The lawsuit argued that the tolls placed an unfair burden on out-of-state truckers.

Judge Smith said that within 48 hours, Rhode Island would be “permanently enjoined from charging or collecting tolls  or from enforcing nonpayment of such tolls through penalty for nonpayment or avoidance.”

RhodeWorks was passed into law February of 2016 as a way to rebuild Rhode Island’s infrastructure by tolling trucks and not passenger vehicles under the assumption that heavy commercial vehicles are causing the most damage to roads and bridges. Rhode Island began collecting the truck-only tolls in June 2018.

Judge Smith ruled that the truck tolls are unconstitutional and in violation of the Dormant Commerce Clause, which forbids states from passing laws that place undue burdens on interstate commerce.

“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 statutes tolling regime is unconstitutional under the dormant Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution,” Judge Smith wrote.

Cumberland Farms, Inc, M&M Transport Services, Inc., and New England Motor Freight, Inc. joined the ATA in filing suit for a permanent injunction against the tolls.

“We told Rhode Island’s leaders from the start that their crazy scheme was not only discriminatory, but illegal,” said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear.  “We’re pleased the court agreed. To any state looking to target our industry, you better bring your A-game… because we’re not rolling over.”

“It has been a long road to get to this point,” said Rhode Island Trucking Association President Chris Maxwell, “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.”

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