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Toll hike still alive; 2 more public hearings scheduled

State House Bureau

December 06. 2017 10:58PM

CONCORD — A proposal to increase tolls on New Hampshire turnpikes by as much as 50 percent is still alive, as the Executive Council, acting as the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Transportation, voted 3-2 on Wednesday to schedule the plan for a formal vote on Dec. 20, after two more public hearings.

Gov. Chris Sununu removed the toll hikes from the Executive Council agenda for the Wednesday morning meeting at the request of Department of Transportation Commissioner Victoria Sheehan to allow for the additional public hearings and more careful consideration of the proposal, which surfaced for the first time just before the Thanksgiving holiday.

Councilors stated their positions for and against the idea at the formal Executive Council meeting, but took no vote on the matter.

Later in the day, they met again at the Department of Transportation in their capacity as the Governors Advisory Committee on Transportation, and decided to keep the idea alive — at least for the time being.

The 3-2 vote on Wednesday afternoon was consistent with the past positions of the councilors on the issue. Republican Russell Prescott of Kingston voted with Democrats Chris Pappas of Manchester and Andru Volinsky of Concord to keep the proposal on the table, while Republicans David Wheeler and Joe Kenney voted “no.”

As a result, the matter will come up for a vote on Dec. 20 when the councilors meet again as the Governors Advisory Committee on Transportation to act on the state’s updated 10-year transportation plan.

If the toll increases clear that vote, the proposal will still have to be approved by the same five individuals acting as Executive Councilors.

Sununu, who says he opposes the idea, could allow it to take effect or he could negate it.

Although Sununu has the power to simply keep the idea off the Executive Council agenda, he said on Wednesday he is reluctant to do so.

“I’m against the tolls, but I’d like the process to take place, get the public’s input and see what the council ultimately wants to do,” he said. “There are very few things the council really has direct authority over, and the 10-year highway plan and tolls are really two of the most significant. It would be unprecedented just to step on that process.”

Sununu declined to say whether he would negate a council vote in support of the toll hikes, should that ever occur.

“That would take all the suspense out of it. Why would I give that up?” he said. “We have a process under way. I’m going to take in the public input as they (councilors) will as well, but I am opposed to it today.”

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.

A key reason for delaying the vote was to allow for two more public hearings, one in Concord and one in Manchester. A hearing was held Monday night in Portsmouth.

The Concord hearing will be held at the NH Department of Transportation, Room 114, 7 Hazen Drive, in Concord, on Tuesday, Dec. 12, at 6 p.m.

The Manchester hearing will be held at Manchester City Hall, Aldermanic Chambers, 1 City Hall Plaza. on Wednesday, Dec. 13, at 7 p.m.

Written comments should be sent to William E. Watson, 7 Hazen Drive, PO Box 483, Concord 03302-0483, or to Comments must be received by 4 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 14.

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