Merrimack's burden: It needs to be lifted
When Sen. Peter Bragdon urged the Senate back in March to pass his bill to eliminate the Merrimack toll plazas on the F.E. Everett Turnpike, he asked, "Are we going to have a turnpike system where the users pay for it, or are the people of Merrimack going to pay for it?" The House Public Works and Highways Committee answered this week that for now the people of Merrimack are going to continue paying for it.
Bragdon's bill was amended in the Senate so that it eliminated only the toll booth at Exit 12, leaving the other two Merrimack toll booths intact. Exit 10 is where shoppers going to the Merrimack Premium Outlets disembark from the turnpike. Those shoppers have increased Exit 10 revenue from $260,000 annually to $935,000. Exit 12 revenue last year was $660,000. The state could close the Exit 12 tolls and break even year-to-year, thanks to the outlet traffic.
The Public Works and Highways Committee voted 12-2 Wednesday to retain Bragdon's bill. It will not find its way to the floor of the House for a vote unless senators find a way to slip its language into another bill. So unless some creative legislating is done, Merrimack drivers will have to keep paying every single time they access the turnpike, a burden shared by the people of no other New Hampshire town.
Rep. David Campbell, D-Nashua, chairs the committee and says it will study toll road issues statewide and release a report by Nov. 22. Legislators do not need a study to tell them that the turnpike system's reliance on Merrimack toll revenue is unfair.
The outlets give the state the ability to shift some of the turnpike burden (about $675,000 a year) off of Merrimack residents and onto shoppers from elsewhere, many from Massachusetts, without discouraging tourism. It is a no-brainer. Legislators should find a way to pass Bragdon's bill before this session ends.