RICHMOND, Va. — The American Trucking Association hinted Thursday it may sue the State of Virginia over legislation that proposes charging tolls on Interstate 81.
The ATA did so in a letter to Connecticut Gov. Ralph Northam opposing the legislation which Northam touts as the best way to fund improvements to the 325-mile interstate between Bristol and Winchester.
The bill proposes tolling commercial trucks at 17 cents per mile, personal vehicles at about 11 cents per mile and offering an annual pass to commuters in passenger vehicles.
The letter, signed by Jennifer Hall, the ATA’s general counsel and executive vice president, legal affairs, says that if adopted in their current form would not only be poor public policy, but would raise serious legal issues and may create an “impermissible burden” on interstate commerce.
The proposed plan has four options for tolling.
The ATA letter dealt with the option that would toll all vehicles with an annual pass available exclusively to automobiles.
“The car-only annual pass proposal is unlawful under the U.S. Constitution because it represents an impermissible burden on interstate commerce,” Hall wrote. “More specifically, the U.S. Supreme Court has explained that, under the Commerce Clause, a transportation user fee is permissible only “if it (1) is based on some fair approximation of use of the facilities, (2) is not excessive in relation to the benefits conferred, and (3) does not discriminate against interstate commerce.”
Plan’s car-only annual pass option would fail this test for a variety of reasons, the ATA said, noting:
- User fees would bear no relationship to use of the tolled roads;
- Tolls on commercial vehicles would be excessive in relation to the benefits conferred;
- The plan favors noncommercial vehicles over commercial vehicles, which power interstate commerce.
The ATA said by allowing automobiles the opportunity to pay a one-time fee for unlimited travel over the course of the year, but to deny that flat-rate opportunity to trucks, means that the proposal is not “based on some fair approximation of use.”
On the contrary, for a passenger car availing itself of the annual pass option, its user fees will bear no relationship whatsoever to its use of the tolled roads. Trucks, by contrast, will have no choice but to pay on a trip-by-trip basis, the federation claimed.
Hall said the proposed toll scheme discriminates against interstate commerce by favoring noncommercial vehicles over commercial vehicles—i.e., the very vehicles by which interstate commerce moves.
“The Supreme Court has expressly held that highway user fees ‘discriminate against out-of-state vehicles’ when they predictably ‘subject them to a much higher charge per mile travelled in the state,’ and ‘do not even purport to approximate fairly the cost or value of the use of [the] roads,” the letter said. “That is precisely what the proposed toll scheme does, by allowing automobiles — and only automobiles — the option of an annual flat fee that translates to a predictably lower charge per mile the more such vehicles use the road.”
If the ATA files suit against the toll plan in Virginia, it would be the second lawsuit regarding tolls in the past six months.
“We encourage you and the Assembly to think carefully about these issues before Virginia takes any further steps in the direction it appears to be heading; and to bear in mind that the auto-only annual pass option will be vulnerable to a legal challenge if it moves forward,” Hall concluded letter.
If a lawsuit filed against the director of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, ATA charges that the Rhode Island tolls violate the Commerce Clause of the Constitution by imposing “discriminatory and disproportionate burdens on out-of-state operators and on truckers who are operating in interstate commerce.”
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association recently filed a lawsuit against Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, the Indiana Finance Authority, the Indiana Toll Road Concession Co., and the commissioner of the Indiana Department of Transportation challenging the increased tolls on heavy vehicles on the Indiana Toll Road. They were implemented last October. 8
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