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Federal judge dismisses ATA suit over Rhode Island’s truck tolls

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The International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA) said his organization supports the state’s RhodeWorks plan to use truck tolls as one of many revenue streams to rebuild major bridges in the state. (Courtesy: STATE OF RHODE ISLAND)

PROVIDENCE, R.I.  — A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit over Rhode Island’s new truck tolls Tuesday, finding that the court lacks jurisdiction and the case should be brought in the state court system.

Rhode Island began tolling trucks in June as part of an infrastructure plan to repair bridges and roads. The American Trucking Associations sued in U.S. District Court.

“ATA is disappointed by the decision, in which the U.S. District Court ruled that it was without power to hear ATA’s constitutional challenge to the discriminatory RhodeWorks truck-only tolls, and that the challenge must instead be brought in state court,” said ATA Deputy General Counsel Rich Pianka. “ATA is reviewing the decision and considering next steps, but looks forward to vindicating its underlying claims on the merits, whatever the venue.”

The ATA argued in its lawsuit that the tolls violate the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause and pose a discriminatory and disproportionate burden on out-of-state operators and truckers. Cumberland Farms, New England Motor Freight and M&M Transport Services are also plaintiffs.

The state argued that the federal court cannot restrain the collection of state taxes, such as tolls, and state matters should be adjudicated in state court.

Christopher Maxwell, president of the Rhode Island Trucking Association, said the judge’s decision doesn’t speak to the merits of the claims, only the venue in which to bring them. He said it’ll be up to American Trucking Associations to decide how to proceed. The Rhode Island Trucking Association is a member of the national group.

Connecticut officials have been watching the Rhode Island case closely. Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont, who ran for office supporting tolls only on big rigs, included two tolling options for lawmakers to consider in his new budget: tolling just trucks or tolling everyone. Lamont’s administration has estimated Connecticut could reap $200 million in annual revenue from truck tolls and about $800 million from tolls on cars and trucks.

In recent weeks, the governor has made it clear he is now leaning toward supporting the more wide-ranging tolls to help generate the revenue needed to address Connecticut’s transportation infrastructure needs.

Maribel La Luz, a spokeswoman for Lamont, said Tuesday’s dismissal of the truckers’ lawsuit “confirms what we already believed to be true,” that “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.”

La Luz said Lamont’s wider ranging tolling 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.”

Patrick Jones executive director and CEO on the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA) said his organization supports the state’s plan to use truck tolls as one of many revenue streams to rebuild major bridges in the state.

“Large majorities of Americans support greater investment in infrastructure,” he said. “While the judge who dismissed the lawsuit did not address the merits of the case, we remain hopeful that no court will deny Rhode Island, or any state, the ability to assess user fees including tolls to rebuild its vital bridges and highways.”

The Connecticut General Assembly’s Transportation Committee was scheduled to vote Wednesday on several bills that could lead to tolls on state highways. While none would institute truck-only tolls, the Rhode Island court decision is likely to come up during the debate.

In Rhode Island, only two out of 14 proposed toll gantries are in place. The governor’s budget proposal estimates tolls will generate about $7 million in the current budget year and $25 million for the budget year starting July 1. The projections are much lower than previous revenue estimates due to delays in permitting and environmental assessments for the additional gantries.

Rhode Island lawmakers authorized the toll system in 2016 as part of a $5 billion, decade-long plan to rebuild crumbling roads and bridges, projecting then that the entire system would bring in $450 million over 10 years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1 Comment

  1. Ron Mitchell

    March 22, 2019 at 6:05 am

    If you can’t fine the truckers $7 million for crossing the Pawtucket Bridge then just toll them. So much for federal aid and fuel tax.

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The Nation

Can you say oversized load!

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That is big!

 

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The Nation

Diesel prices all but stagnant nationwide, less than 2-cent shift anywhere

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The average price for a gallon of diesel nationwide fell by 0.7 cents for the week ending July 22, to currently stand at $3.044 per gallon, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The lack of movement in diesel prices continues a pattern that has been going on for the past month. On June 24, diesel was at 3.042, with changes of less than 1.5 cents every week in between.

Though tiny, the movement in diesel prices was nearly unanimous this past week, down in all but one region of the country.  That one exception was the Rocky Mountain region, where diesel rose 0.3 cents, to $2.978. Year-to-date, diesel prices are lower in every region, with the Rocky Mountain region again being the standout, having the greatest difference, 39.1 cents from this time last year.

California made it a clean sweep for lower diesel prices year-to-date with a drop of 1.3 cents this past week, to $3.939, still by far the highest in the country, but 0.4 cents below this time last year.

Along the rest of the West Coast, diesel dropped 1.1 cents to $3.198, bringing the overall West Coast average to $3.611 per gallon.

The average along the East Coast is currently $3.072, with prices highest in the Central Atlantic, where diesel is going for $3.259 after a 1.3-cent drop. Diesel is $3.122 in New England following a decrease of 0.9 cents over the past week, while in the Lower Atlantic region diesel slipped by 0.4 cents to stand at $2.937 per gallon.

That’s still slightly better than the Midwest, where diesel is going for $2.948 per gallon after a drop of 0.8 cents. Meanwhile, the Gulf Coast, the low-price leader in diesel, fell by the same 0.1 cent it gained the week before to stand at $2.804.

On Monday, increasing tensions between Iran and Western countries failed to produce a sharp reaction in the crude oil markets. Brent crude, the global benchmark, rose 98 cents, or 1.57%, to settle at $63.45 a barrel. U.S.-based West Texas Intermediate crude rose 59 cents, or 1.06%, to settle at $56.22 a barrel.

Click here for a complete list of average prices by region for the past three weeks.

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DOL opinion letter: Time in sleeper berth does not count as compensable time

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The Department of Labor says the time a truck driver spends in the sleeper berth is not compensable time. Pictured in the Peterbilt 579 UltraLoft sleeper berth. (Courtesy: PETERBILT MOTORS)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Labor said Monday said it had determined that time spent in the sleeper berth by professional truck drivers while otherwise relieved from duty does not count as compensable time.

The DOL issued the determination in a written opinion letter by the department’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) on how a particular law applies in specific circumstances presented by the individual person or entity that requested the letter.

The American Trucking Associations lauded the opinion.

“ATA welcomes Monday’s opinion letter from DOL Wage and Hour Division Administrator Cheryl Stanton that concluded time spent by a commercial driver in the sleeper berth does not count as compensable hours under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, unless the driver is actually performing work or on call,” said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear. “This opinion, which is consistent with decades-old DOL regulations, the weight of judicial authority, and the long understanding of the trucking industry, clears up confusion created by two recent court decisions that called the compensability of sleeper berth time into question.

Significantly, this opinion letter provides new guidance, the DOL said.

Under prior guidance, the DOL said WHD interpreted the relevant regulations to mean that while sleeping time may be excluded from hours worked where “adequate facilities” were furnished, only up to eight hours of sleeping time may be excluded in a trip 24 hours or longer, and no sleeping time may be excluded for trips under 24 hours.

“WHD has now concluded that this interpretation is unnecessarily burdensome for employers and instead adopts a straightforward reading of the plain language of the applicable regulation, under which the time drivers are relieved of all duties and permitted to sleep in a sleeper berth is presumptively non-working time that is not compensable,” the opinion letter said. “There may be circumstances, however, where a driver who retires to a sleeping berth is unable to use the time effectively for his or her own purposes. For example, a driver who is required to remain on call or do paperwork in the sleeping berth may be unable to effectively sleep or engage in personal activities; in such cases, the time is compensable hours worked.”

The ATA commended Acting Secretary Patrick Pizzella and Stanton for adopting a straightforward, plain-language reading of the law, rather than the burdensome alternative interpretation embraced by those outlier decisions.

“ATA also commends the department for making guidance like this available through opinion letters, which provide an opportunity for stakeholders to better understand their compliance obligations prospectively, rather than settling such matters only after the fact, through costly and wasteful litigation,” Spear said.

 

 

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