The Rhode Island toll gantries were ruled unconstitutional, based on the Commerce Clause, and shut down in September 2022. But the state, in its desire to take money from the trucking industry, recently asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit to reinstate the truck-only tolls.
Upwards of 250,000 tractor-trailers pass through the smallest state in the union daily, often traveling I-95 or I-295 to haul freight to neighboring states. The so-called Rhode Works tolling system was implemented after former Gov. Gina Raimondo and other politicians effectively smeared truckers as the reason the state’s roads were in disrepair.
“The reason I prefer the tolling proposal is because the majority of the burden is on out-of-state truckers,” Raimondo, now the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, reportedly said at the time.
The strategy seemed to be to get non-resident workers and companies to fill the state’s coffers. Although Rhode Island does not necessarily earmark the money for road construction, reports indicate the majority has been distributed to the RI DOT.
Current Gov. Dan McKee appears adamant about jump-starting a program that took in more than $100 million from the trucking sector. But the cost of the appeals process is starting to — pardon the pun — take a “toll” on taxpayers.
New reports coming out of the Ocean State indicate the legal fees have already exceeded $8.4 million and the civil lawsuit has only reached the first hurdle.
“That is an enormous figure for a state lawsuit. When you apply that much money to what is going to be added by the appeal, it’s a ridiculous amount of taxpayer dollars,” Rhode Island legal analyst Mark Dana reportedly said. “I anticipate that the $8 million will go above $10 million just on the First Circuit Court of Appeals case.”
It’s also important to note that the state subcontracted out the tolling system that targets tractor-trailers to Kapsch Traffic Com IVHS Inc. To date, Kapsch has reportedly earned $48.1 million from its deal with state politicians.
During a recent hearing in front of the First Circuit, judges appeared skeptical about the state’s claim that the tolls were constitutional because they largely affect out-of-state operations. Rhode Island is the only state to impose a tax solely on tractor-trailers. When they were struck down, Connecticut tapped the brakes on a similar policy. Then it pivoted to a truck-only highway user fee that went into effect on Jan. 1.