New York State Thruway toll revenues from commercial truckers cannot be diverted to maintain the New York State Canal System, a federal judge has ruled in a decision supporting contentions made by the plaintiff, the American Trucking Associations.
While calling the Canal System a “jewel in the crown of the Empire State,” U.S. District Court Judge Colleen McMahon says the state “cannot insulate the Canal System from vagaries of the political process and taxpayer preferences by imposing the cost of its upkeep on those who drive the New York Thruway in interstate commerce.”
The ATA argued in the case that the Thruway toll rates violate the Dormant Commerce Clause because they are inflated to cover the cost of improving and maintaining the Canal System.
Judge McMahon says the Canal System is important to the state, but notes that “the record contains not a scintilla of evidence that long-distance truckers, in their capacity as commercial drivers on toll roads known as the New York State Thruway, derive any benefit whatever from the Canal System’s waterways, its museums and educational attractions, and the parks and recreational areas adjacent to the historic barge canals.”
The decision notes commercial truckers are responsible for about 37% of toll road revenue in New York, but account for 10% of the traffic. The toll diversion, therefore, had a significant impact on the industry, the court found.
The ATA had asked for a refund of the portion of tolls paid that went to subsidize the canals going back six years. Judge McMahon initially tossed the lawsuit on technical grounds, but the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals sent it back for a ruling on the merits.
ATA President and CEO Chris Spear, in a statement, says, “ATA believed that the courts and Constitution were clear – revenue from tolls must be spent maintaining the roads they’re collected on and not diverted to finance bike paths and waterways for recreational kayaking and canoeing. We hope today’s ruling will not only end this practice in New York, but dissuade other states from financing their budget shortfalls on the backs of our industry.”