Judge strikes down Rhode Island's truck tolls

A sign on an on-ramp to Interstate 95 in Providence warns truckers about automated toll collection gantries, which were ruled discriminatory by a federal judge September 21, 2022. Photo by Steve Klamkin WPRO News


Calling Rhode Island’s scheme to charge tolls to large trucks and not any other vehicles discriminatory, a federal judge Wednesday struck down the state’s toll system as unconstitutional, setting a 48-hour deadline to discontinue charging tolls.

Capping four years of litigation that saw the trucking industry trade group American Trucking Associations and others suing state Director of Transportation Peter Alviti and the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority, Judge William Smith issued a 91-page ruling, finding that “RhodeWorks”, the toll plan enacted by former Gov. Gina Raimondo that funded bridge and highway repairs violates the Constitution’s Commerce Clause.

RhodeWorks was designed to raise approximately $45 million per year to make up the state’s match for federal funds to undertake an ambitious plan to rebuild crumbling roads and bridges. The trucking association almost immediately filed suit, and while Judge Smith initially dismissed the case, his ruling was overturned on appeal, resulting in a trial earlier this year that heard the truckers’ evidence of discrimination.

“Rhode Island has a legitimate – even compelling – interest in the maintenance of its ailing bridges. But there is no reason that interest cannot
be served by a tolling system that does not offend the Commerce Clause,” Judge Smith found.

“Indeed, many states have implemented tolling systems that fairly apportion their costs across various users and do not
discriminate against interstate commerce,” he wrote.

House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio issued a joint statement, pledging not to extend tolls to other vehicle classes.

“We just learned about the ruling in the long-running litigation process resulting from the 2016 legislation. The General Assembly prohibited the tolling of passenger cars, and regardless of the eventual outcome of this lawsuit, that will not change,” Shekarchi and Ruggerio wrote.

“We want to very clear: the Governor and his Administration do not support and would not implement a tolling program on passenger vehicles,” said Matthew Sheaff, a spokesman for Governor Dan McKee in a statement. “As this ruling has just come out, our team is reviewing the decision and evaluating next steps.”