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Merrimack officials support toll plan, but voice concerns

By KIMBERLY HOUGHTON
Union Leader Correspondent

December 15. 2017 12:10AM
Drivers pass through the northbound tolls in Hooksett on Monday, Dec. 4, 2017. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)



MERRIMACK — Although town officials are supporting a proposed toll plan being considered by the Executive Council, at least two town councilors are expressing concerns.

“I find that tolls are the most inefficient, archaic way of collecting revenue to fix your highways, so I think they should all be gone,” said Finlay Rothhaus, town councilor.

Last week, the town council voted to write a letter in support of the proposed acceleration and expansion of the turnpike capital program, but did have some hesitancy.

Under the proposal, rates would increase to $1.50 from $1 at the main tolls in Hooksett and Bedford. The Hampton toll on Interstate 95 would increase by 50 cents to $2.50, and the toll plazas on the Spaulding Turnpike in Dover and Rochester would go up to $1 from the current 75 cents.

The additional money would be used to add new projects like turnpike widening and sound barriers to the 10-year plan, and accelerate the completion of other projects already in the plan; the tolls at exits 10 and 11 in Merrimack could then close in a few years.

Councilor Peter Albert says the greatest benefit of the plan is the closure of the two tolls in Merrimack. In addition, he said the widening of the turnpike will create better traffic flow not only on the turnpike, but on local roadways as well.

Accelerated construction of the turnpike widening from Nashua to Bedford, coupled with the elimination of the toll plazas in Merrimack, will have a positive impact on economic development for the town and the region, Town Manager Eileen Cabanel wrote in a letter to William Watson of the Bureau of Planning and Community Assistance for the New Hampshire Department of Transportation.

“The ramp tolls have long been a barrier to entry for companies wanting to locate their businesses in Merrimack.

Congestion on the F.E. Everett Turnpike causes wasted money for companies transporting goods and services through the corridor, which will reduce the impact of the toll increase,” wrote Cabanel.

Currently, small accidents on the turnpike result in major backups that cause spillover traffic to impact the Daniel Webster Highway and other roads in Merrimack, according to Cabanel.

“Tolls are really not the way to be doing it. If we should be doing it through gas tax or something other — tire tax or whatever —then we ought to do that, or flip it the other way and just go to tolls everywhere and make the whole system be the toll system and put all the gas money into that bucket,” said Councilor Tom Koenig. “But to keep these two separate buckets and play games with how you associate with them is very disturbing to me.”

Koenig said there are some pros and cons associated with the proposed toll plan, adding he has heard from some constituents who are opposed to it because they cannot understand the benefits of the proposal.

“If we go on record as supporting this, we are going to find ourselves with a whole rash of people who are upset with us because we are supporting increasing tolls and we need to find a way to jump on the (public relations) bandwagon to explain to them why we are doing that and what is the value and the purpose,” he said.

Councilor Bill Boyd said that about 54 percent of the toll users in New Hampshire are out-of-state residents. He studied the pros and cons, but said taking down the tolls in Merrimack and the widening of the turnpike have been important priorities for the town for a long time.

khoughton@newstote.com


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