Sending a message to toll authorities nationwide that use highway tolls as a piggybank for unrelated projects, American Trucking Associations has filed a lawsuit challenging the New York State Thruway Authority’s diversion of millions of dollars of toll revenues every year to maintain the tourism and recreational facilities that make up the New York Canal System.

“During these times of underfunding highway infrastructure, we cannot afford to have tolling authorities take the money users pay for maintenance and upkeep of the roadways and use it for recreational or other unrelated purposes,” said ATA President and CEO Bill Graves. “When truckers pay for access to the Thruway, tens of millions of dollars of their toll payments go to the steep costs of the Canal System, which they derive no benefit from.”

The Thruway Authority charges tolls for the use of several major arteries of interstate commerce, used by motor carriers to transport goods throughout the northeastern United States. Since 1992, the Thruway Authority has owned the state’s Canal System and as of 2012 had maintained and improved it to the tune of over $1.1 billion. In recent years, rising costs have reached over $100 million annually.

“The Canal System generates plenty of economic activity for nearby towns, drawing hundreds of millions of tourism dollars to surrounding communities every year. But those who benefit from the canals pay a tiny fraction of their upkeep,” said Richard Pianka, chief counsel of the ATA Litigation Center. “This amounts to a serious burden on interstate commerce, and is prohibited by the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.”

As the complaint filed today explains, the Thruway’s toll rates violate the Commerce Clause because they “are not based on a fair approximation of commercial truckers’ use of the Thruway,” and “are excessive in relation to the benefits conferred on commercial truckers for paying those tolls.”

“Truckers and motor carriers work hard to run their businesses efficiently and deliver the goods that are the lifeblood of the national economy at a reasonable price. Especially in these difficult economic times, they cannot also be expected to foot the bill for New York’s recreational facilities,” Pianka said. “Tempting as it may be, the Constitution doesn’t allow states to solve difficult internal revenue and spending problems by putting them on the back of interstate commerce.”