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Toll hike praised, pilloried at Manchester hearing

New Hampshire Union Leader

December 13. 2017 9:39PM
Drivers pass through the northbound tolls in Hooksett on Monday, Dec. 4. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — More than 60 people packed the aldermanic chambers at Manchester City Hall Wednesday night to hear details of a proposed toll increase on state highways.

The hearing was hosted by Executive Councilor Chris Pappas, D-Manchester, and Department of Transportation officials.

Mayor Ted Gatsas joined a chorus of representatives of the state’s truckers, grocery distributors and fuel transportation industry in voicing opposition to the toll increases in recent weeks, while regional planners, representatives of engineering firms and road builders and some elected Manchester officials believe the increases represent good fiscal policy.

“I’m speaking not as mayor of the city, but as a citizen of the city,” Gatsas said. “I think it’s irresponsible to be talking about a toll increase at this time. I think there has to be other ways the people at the DOT can come up for these projects. I am opposed to this increase.”

“When people think of New Hampshire they think of quality roads,” said Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester.

“They want that road black and they want it done properly. They are willing to pay for that. I’m here to support a toll increase. There must be an acceleration in taking care of these roads. This is a good move for the citizens of New Hampshire and the residents of the city of Manchester.”

“Part of the frustration I’m hearing is the proposal to raise tolls by up to 50 percent didn’t really come out until right before Thanksgiving,” said Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford.

“We all want to make sure our roads are safe. I have yet to hear from a single business that uses our roads that thinks this is a good idea. I can’t find anyone, anyone, who is supporting this type of initiative. I ask that you press the pause button.”

“I am in favor of this proposal,” said Alderman At Large Dan O’Neil. “These projects are about jobs, jobs, jobs. I ask your favorable consideration, and advance in a much shorter time frame these turnpike improvement projects.”

“I think a toll increase, now that the economy is going — I think low income people will be hurt by having a toll increase,” said Rep. Doug Thomas, R-Londonderry. “I think it sends the wrong message just as we get the economy going. We should look at other ways to fund these, if this is such an important project to do right now.”

“I have been an alderman in that corridor, Exit 6 and 7, for years,” Alderman Keith Hirschmann of Ward 12 in Manchester said. “I’m advocating for the acceleration of this project. I’m leaving the funding for that up to you. I’m coming at this strictly from a safety perspective. People have been maimed and killed.”

If approved, the toll hikes would be the first in a decade and would accelerate the timetable for completing existing projects in the state’s 10-year highway plan, while adding new ones to the mix.

Rates would climb to $1.50 from $1 at the mainline tolls at Hooksett and Bedford. The Hampton toll would jump to $2.50, while the toll plazas on the Spaulding Turnpike in Dover and Rochester would go up to $1 apiece from 75 cents.

The toll increases are projected to raise $36 million more a year, with the funds slated to be used to pay for $750 million in upgrades over the next decade as long as the state issues a new, $50

million bond in 2022, according to the proposal created by the Department of Transportation.

Discounts are proposed for commuters who travel through multiple plazas and pay relatively high monthly tolls. Accounting for discounts, the DOT estimates the increases would boost annual toll revenue by 27 percent.

The five-member Executive Council is scheduled to meet again on Dec. 20 as the Governor’s Advisory

Council on Transportation to vote one more time on the proposal. If at least three of five councilors support the proposal, it will be up to the governor to decide whether it will be on a future agenda for a formal council vote.

Three of the five councilors have said they support the hikes — Pappas, Democrat Andru Volinsky of Concord, and Republican Russell Prescott of Kingston, who initiated the proposal.

Republican David Wheeler of Milford is opposed, while Republican Joe Kenney said he voted to recommend that the proposal be brought to the council for discussion, “but I have no intention of voting for it.”

Transportation Travel and commuting State Government Manchester

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