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Stage set for January turnpike toll hike showdown

State House Bureau

December 20. 2017 4:49PM
Drivers pass through the northbound tolls in Hooksett. If the state's 10-year highway plan is approved as is, a toll increase will be needed to pay for the improvements. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER FILE)

CONCORD — The state's 10-year highway plan will be formally submitted to Gov. Chris Sununu with projects included that are dependent on the revenue increase of a turnpike toll hike.

Republican Executive Councilors David Wheeler of Milford and Joe Kenney of Union oppose the higher toll and refused to sign off on the plan during a meeting Wednesday with the Department of Transportation in their role as the Governor's Advisory Commission on Transportation.

Executive Councilors Russell Prescott, R-Kingston, Chris Pappas, D-Manchester and Andru Volinsky, D-Concord, all support the highway plan expected to result in higher tolls.

Councilors and DOT managers agreed to submit the toll increase as an item for the next Executive Council meeting on Jan. 10.

Gov. Chris Sununu, who controls the council agenda, said Wednesday he would allow the vote to go forward.

"If the councilors want me to put it on the agenda, I will put it on the agenda," he said.

The 10-year highway improvement plan is presented by the executive councilors, but must eventually be approved by the House and Senate and signed into law by the governor. The Senate president, House speaker and the governor have all voiced opposition to the toll hikes.

The House and Senate could amend the plan to eliminate projects funded through the toll hikes, which would eliminate the need for an increase.

That would be unfortunate, according to Prescott, who initiated the push for a toll hike.

"If we do nothing, we will have 14 percent more red listed bridges in 10 years, and to me that is not fiscal responsibility, that is fiscally irresponsible," he said.

In their letter to Sununu, the three councilors said public comment at three recent public hearings on the toll hikes was "generally split."

"Those not supporting the toll increase expressed concerns about the need for accelerating the project, the decision-making process, the timing of this decision and the potential financial impact on businesses and lower income residents," the letter said.

"Those supporting the toll increase cited the critical need to advance these projects to address safety and congestion, potential positive economic growth benefits, the reasonableness of the toll increases, the need to address highway noise impacts and timeliness of delivering these projects."

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