NEW YORK CITY – A second transportation association has joined the fight against the New York State Thruway Authority’s use of highway tolls to fund the state’s canal system.
The American Bus Association has filed a class-action lawsuit against the Thruway Authority, arguing that bus tolls used to maintain the canal system are unconstitutional.
A similar suit filed by the American Trucking Associations won a court victory last summer when Judge Colleen McMahon of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York sided with ATA.
In her decision, McMahon acknowledged the canals had no transportation or other associated value to trucking companies.
“Obviously commercial truckers do not use the barge canals; they haul freight on the highway,” McMahon wrote in her decision.
“The state of New York cannot insulate the Canal System from the 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.”
Based on that analysis, the Thruway Authority violated the Dormant Commerce Clause with its commercial toll rates, she ruled.
The Thruway Authority responded to the ruling by asking the court in January to vacate the order, arguing that it was authorized to use truck tolls to pay for canals by Congress.
ABA’s suit, filed a week later, is arguing that bus companies are affected the same way as truckers by the tolls.
“The Thruway Authority’s enactment, implementation, and enforcement of its artificially inflated toll rates have deprived, and will continue to deprive, Plaintiffs of rights secured by the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution,” ABA said, “because they are not based on a fair approximation of interstate bus companies’ use of the Thruway and because they are excessive in relation to the benefits conferred on interstate bus companies for paying those tolls.”
ATA and ABA are seeking monetary damages in the amount of tolls paid since Nov. 14, 2010, and Feb. 1, 2014, respectively. They are also seeking a declaratory judgment and a permanent order that would prevent the collection of similar tolls in the future.
The tolls in question are charged on the Governor Thomas E. Dewey Thruway system, which runs between New York City, Albany and Buffalo.
The Thruway Authority contributes more than $61 million annually, or roughly 10 percent of toll revenue, to maintain the canals, including the Erie Canal, which was once crucial for transporting goods but is now obsolete and mainly a tourist attraction.