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Quid pro quo floated that would eliminate tolls at Merrimack exits

Union Leader Correspondent

September 19. 2018 8:50PM

MERRIMACK — Four years after toll collection came to a halt at Exit 12 of the F.E. Everett Turnpike, talks have now resumed about possibly eliminating the tolls at exits 10 and 11 as well.

At least one town councilor has been approached about a possible quid pro quo that has been discussed in preliminary talks with the state about the issue.

House Bill 2018 was signed into law by the governor in July, which allowed for the establishment of a committee to study the potential removal of the remaining Merrimack tolls at exits 10 and 11.

The committee has already been formed and is being led by Sen. Gary Daniels, R-Milford.

Last week, Daniels approached Town Councilor Bill Boyd and informally asked him if Merrimack would entertain the idea of taking ownership of Industrial Drive and a portion of Continental Boulevard from the Dunkin’ Donuts to Route 101A at Pennichuck Square. In return, the Department of Transportation would consider removing the tolls at exits 10 and 11.

“It is not the first time that we have been told or have been offered to take control of those particular roadways,” Boyd told the Town Council, adding it was important to be transparent with the board about his informal talk with Daniels.

In 2014, the DOT stopped collecting tolls as Exit 12 in Merrimack — a move that even local officials said would likely never happen in their lifetimes. That occurred because the state Legislature approved Senate Bill 367, which, at the time, raised the gas tax from 18 to 22.2 cents per gallon, but also included a clause to eliminate the Exit 12 ramp tolls.

“This is not our first rodeo. We have been through this,” Rep. Dick Barry told the Town Council.

Although the concept of removing the tolls at exits 10 and 11 is the focus of the newly formed committee, he explained that other ideas are also being floated.

“As you know from years gone by, that will not be the final focus,” he warned the board.

According to House Bill 2018, the committee will study the removal of Exit 11 upon the expiration of the bond, and any financial implications associated with its removal.

It will also study the removal of Exit 10 and its financial implications, as well as the location of the Bedford mainline toll plaza and the status of Continental Boulevard

The group is expected to report its findings and possible recommendations to select state officials by Nov. 1.

Finlay Rothhaus, Town Council chairman, urged committee members and local state representatives to gain feedback from the council on the matter.

Boyd agreed, saying concerns about what lies underneath the tar on Continental Boulevard and Industrial Drive were raised previously.

“That would be a big concern. What is actually under the road and what responsibility would we be assuming if we agreed, in theory, to absorbing responsibility for Industrial and Continental?” asked Boyd.

Local officials have repeatedly attempted to offer toll relief to Merrimack residents, even exploring the possibility of suing the state for an alleged violation of the state constitution because of inequitable taxation of residents from the tolls.

For many years, Merrimack lawmakers had unsuccessfully introduced legislation to provide some toll relief in town, but it was never supported in Concord until 2014.

In 2013, former Sen. Peter Bragdon proposed Senate Bill 3, which would have eliminated the ramp tollbooths at all three turnpike exits in Merrimack, although that bill did not gain enough traction for passage.

Politics Merrimack

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