March 20, 2019

RI judge upholds truck-only tolling; Lamont still wants broader program

Photo | Contributed
Photo | Contributed
An electronic tolling gantry.

A federal judge in Rhode Island on Tuesday dismissed the trucking industry's lawsuit aimed at the Ocean State's newly minted highway tolls on tractor-trailers.

The decision by Rhode Island's U.S. District Court Chief Judge William Smith could open the door for Connecticut to implement its own electronic tolling system on trucks only, an idea that was supported by Gov. Ned Lamont until he pivoted last month and proposed a plan to toll both passenger vehicles and trucks.

In an op-ed piece, the governor said truck tolling would not generate enough revenue for the state, as opposed to the estimated $1 billion in annual revenues a comprehensive tolling system would provide.

Meantime, the 17-page legal ruling may also impact how the legislature's Transportation Committee votes Wednesday regarding proposals aimed at establishing electronic highway tolls in Connecticut. The committee is also expected to discuss and vote on a number of other proposals at 10:30 a.m.

Ahead of the committee's hearing on Wednesday, Colleen Flanagan, a senior advisor to Lamont, said the governor will still move forward with his plan to toll all vehicles, despite the Rhode Island court ruling.

"The dismissal of this lawsuit confirms what we already believed to be true: The road to resolution of this case will be long and winding, and ultimately, we don't believe it will provide the clarity – or revenue – that Connecticut needs to truly enhance and upgrade its infrastructure system," Flanagan said.

"Gov. Lamont's proposal is the path forward if we are serious about supporting our state's economic growth and development, particularly when 40 percent of the costs for such an investment would be paid for by people who don't even live in our state," she said.

Lamont reiterated that, following a speech at the Capitol Wednesday morning. He said he had hoped to receive clarity from the case, but that Tuesday's court ruling, which dismissed the federal lawsuit as better suited to state court, didn't provide it.

"I think this is going to be locked up in the courts now in Rhode Island for years to come," Lamont predicted. "That doesn't help us."

In his decision, Rhode Island federal Judge William Smith wrote that he views tolls on tractor-trailers as a new state tax to fund highway infrastructure, and urged the plaintiffs, including the American Trucking Association and three other companies, to bring their case in state court.

"Here, the facts are clear that the fees, while dubbed 'tolls,' are really a highly targeted and sophisticated tax designed to fund infrastructure maintenance and improvements that would otherwise need to be paid for by other forms of tax-generated revenue," Smith wrote in his decision.

Read more

CT's toll-wary truckers tally their economic benefits

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