CONCORD - Increased traffic resulting from the new Merrimack Premium Outlets mall could allow lawmakers to close one of three toll stations on the F.E. Everett Turnpike in Merrimack.
The Senate Ways and Means Committee approved a plan Tuesday to eliminate Exit 12 tolls due to increased revenues at Exit 10 from traffic going to the mall.
Originally, Senate Bill 3 — sponsored by Senate President Peter Bragdon, whose district includes Merrimack — would have closed all three tolls in Merrimack.
The elimination of the three tolls would cost the turnpike system approximately $5.5 million a year, according to information from the Department of Transportation.
“While I would have preferred to see tolls at all three exits eliminated, I believe this is a big step in providing relief to fed up Merrimack residents,” Bragdon said.
Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem, proposed an amendment to close Exit 12 but to retain the other ramp tolls.
He said Exit 12 produced about $660,00 in toll revenue in 2012, while Exit 10 revenue jumped from about $260,000 to $935,000 when the mall opened.
The increased toll revenue would “keep the money constant,” Morse told his colleagues, and noted the tolls are expected to decrease at Exit 12 due to the opening of the Manchester Boston Regional Airport access road, which allows travelers from the south to access the airport without having to leave the turnpike.
Committee member Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, noted the revenue increase at Exit 10 appeared to extremely high, but Morse said the projections were from the Department of Transportation.
“This is an ongoing battle,” Morse said, noting the system lost $6 million a year when lawmakers in 2000 eliminated a toll plaza planned for Nashua, but retained the three Merrimack tolls.
D’Allesandro was concerned there may not be enough toll revenue to pay for the construction bonds for the three exits. The three exits were to be paid for by the ramp tolls.
“There’s not enough information for me to make a decision,” D’Allesandro said. “I recognize fairness, but we also made a lot of improvements there.”
Committee member Sen. Jim Rausch, R-Derry, who heads the Senate Transportation Committee, said he never supports eliminating tolls but does in this case because it is revenue neutral.
“The real correct action would be to eliminate these three tolls and reinstate the mainline toll (Nashua) that was planned,” Rausch said, and several other senators agreed.
The committee voted 3-2 for the proposal, which the Senate will vote on later this month. If the bill passes, it will then go to the Senate Finance Committee for review before a final vote.