MERRIMACK — Although representatives approved a bill that would increase the gas tax and simultaneously eliminate the exit 12 tolls in town, not everyone is optimistic toll relief will ever see the light of day.
“I am not celebrating. I think this was just a ploy to get support for a gas tax. Unfortunately, I don’t think we are going to get rid of the tolls,” Rep. Lenette Peterson said on Thursday. “To me, it was just a big farce.”
Peterson said she is not celebrating — especially with a 4.2-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase starting July 1 if approved by the governor.
“People are hurting. People don’t have jobs. The economy cannot handle a gas tax increase,” Peterson said.
Placing the exit 12 toll relief into the gas tax bill was a “cheap move,” according to Peterson, who said it placed Merrimack representatives in an impossible situation.
She believes that legislators, in the next filing period, will likely propose a bill or an amendment that would ultimately keep the tolls at exit 12. Furthermore, she said exit 12 is the least-used toll booth in Merrimack.
Thomas Mahon, town councilor, said he is supportive of the gas tax increase as a way to rebuild state roads and bridges, but is pessimistic that toll relief will happen.
“I am just waiting to see what happens. It is not over until it is over,” Mahon said.
The Ten Year Transportation Improvement Plan by the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, which has already been approved by the House, will likely be amended in the Senate, Mahon said.
Currently, the drafted plan for 2015-2024 calls for the removal of exit 11 and 12 ramp tolls in Merrimack, contingent upon the Bedford mainline toll plaza being moved south, and the transfer of Continental Boulevard to the town of Merrimack.
Mahon said that the matter of Continental Boulevard has never been discussed by the Merrimack Town Council, adding he is not optimistic that legislators would remove both exit 11 and 12 tolls.
Nancy Harrington, town councilor, said she is pleased with the anticipated toll relief at exit 12. With three exits in Merrimack, removing one toll is a step in the right direction, she said.
“I am sure the residents in the northern part of town will be happy with this,” she said.
One of those residents, Steve Miller, said he is looking forward to the toll being eliminated.
“It will make navigating the town a lot easier,” said Miller, who lives about a half-mile from the exit.
The key to making it a success, he said, is to demolish the exit 12 toll booth quickly so that it will be more difficult for legislators to reactivate the toll.
Meanwhile, the Merrimack Town Council is a few weeks away from possibly selecting an attorney to represent the town in its potential lawsuit against the state because of the tolls.