Appeals court reinstates trucker lawsuit over NY road tolls
NEW YORK (AP) — Truckers who claim the New York State Thruway Authority charges excessive tolls are back on track after a federal appeals court reinstated their claims Tuesday.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said three commercial trucking companies, their national trade association and individual truckers can proceed with claims that the Thruway Authority violates the U.S. Constitution by charging excessive tolls along a major artery. The lawsuit alleges that the high tolls reduce trucker revenue and force consumer prices higher.
The truckers say it's wrong that up to 12 percent of toll revenues, or $100 million annually, is spent maintaining or improving the New York Canal System. The canals were once a vital link between East Coast markets and Midwest suppliers. The 2nd Circuit opinion written by Judge Dennis Jacobs said the canals have "faded into obsolescence" and become mainly a recreational space for tourists.
Although the New York Constitution obligates the state to support the canals financially, the legislature in 1992 shifted responsibility for the canal system's management from the New York Department of Transportation to the Thruway Authority, a self-funded public entity that is not under significant state control, the three-judge panel noted.
A lower-court judge had dismissed the 5-year-old lawsuit, saying its claims were really directed at the state. But the appeals court said the Thruway Authority is not an arm of the state and not entitled to the state's sovereign immunity.
The tolls are charged on 570 miles of New York roads including Interstates 87, 90, 95, 190 and 287.
The 2nd Circuit said the truckers' claims would be "identical if the Thruway Authority charged excessive tolls to underwrite the state's interest in a new baseball stadium, or agricultural research or repertory theater."
The judges added that if the Thruway Authority loses, the state will likely have to come up with some other way to raise money for the canals.
Shane Mahar, a spokesman for the state attorney general, declined comment.
Richard Katskee, an attorney for the truckers, said he was pleased.
"Anyone who drives a car or a truck knows that the infrastructure is crumbling. Tolls are supposed to be used to keep them safe and in good repair and that's where the money ought to go," he said.