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Pennsylvania toll lawsuit similar to pending New York case

| Saturday, March 17, 2018, 10:39 a.m.
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Patrick Connolly | Tribune-Review
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A trucking industry lawsuit filed Thursday against the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission makes comparable arguments to a New York lawsuit that's currently at the appellate stage.

The lawsuit filed in Harrisburg federal court claims that the commission violated the Constitution's commerce clause by imposing a fee on interstate commerce that's not related to maintaining the turnpike. Since 2007, the commission has turned over $450 million annually to PennDOT for its projects.

The plaintiffs include the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, the National Motorists Association and six logistics company owners and commercial drivers.

A 2013 lawsuit filed by the American Trucking Associations and several other plaintiffs challenged the New York State Thruway Authority's practice of handing over about $61 million annually to the New York State Canal System.

A federal judge ruled in August 2016 that the practice was unconstitutional based on a 1994 Supreme Court decision in Northwest Airlines Inc. v. County of Kent that a user fee or toll has to be based on “some fair approximation of the use of the facilities for which it is paid” and must not be “excessive in relation to the benefits conferred from the use of those acilities.”

While the class-action lawsuit was still in the process of settling, however, the same judge granted New York's motion to dismiss the case based on a 1991 federal transportation law.

The state contends the law exempts tolls from the commerce clause restriction and allows governments to raise tolls to pay for unrelated transportation projects. The trucking groups contend the law still requires state and local governments to base tolls on the cost of maintaining the roads and bridges subject to the tolls but allows them to use any inadvertent surplus for other projects.

The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in the case in January but hasn't issued a ruling.

Brian Bowling is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-1218, or via Twitter @TribBrian.

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