Merrimack lawmakers seek toll break for residents

Passenger-car drivers — from any state — who buy E-ZPass transponders from the New Hampshire Department of Transportation get a 30 percent discount at all Granite State tolls. Deputy Commissioner Chris Waszczuk told a House committee Tuesday the Legislature could not earmark a bigger discount for Merrimack residents just because they have two ramp tolls in town off the F.E. Everett Turnpike.

MERRIMACK — Local officials will once again attempt to have at least one toll booth removed in Merrimack — this time at Exit 11.

“The citizens of Merrimack keep paying this debt,” said Peter Albert, town councilor.

Although the Exit 12 toll booth off the F.E. Everett Turnpike was removed several years ago, Merrimack still has tolls on the northbound off-ramps and southbound on-ramps at exits 10 and 11.

Town councilors said this week that Merrimack has already paid its fair share.

Earlier this year, Sen. Shannon Chandley introduced Senate Bill 300, which could potentially remove the Exit 11 toll.

Even though about 20 exit ramps have been added to the turnpike since Merrimack’s tolls were implemented, none of them have tolls, according to Chandley.

“It is only the people of Merrimack, and that is the heart of the matter as far as I am concerned. That is patently unfair, and it is important to me that those tolls be removed,” she told the council.

SB 300 would remove the Exit 11 toll once the bond for the turnpike construction is fully paid off — potentially in 2024.

“It is too bad it can’t be quicker,” said Albert.

Chandley agreed, but said this could be an acceptable compromise and eliminate one of the two remaining tolls. She said that this is not the end goal, however, stressing that both toll booths should eventually be eliminated.

The House of Representatives has retained SB300, and a hearing on the proposal is set to take place next week with the House Public Works and Highway Committee.

Town council Chairman Tom Koenig said he will be in attendance to voice support for the bill.

“This has been an ongoing, contentious debate every term,” said state Rep. Jeanine Notter, R-Merrimack.

Notter, who admits that the toll situation is unfortunate, fears that if the toll booths are eliminated in Merrimack, efforts will ultimately be made to place overhead tolls throughout the same turnpike sector.

“I am a little concerned with eliminating (Exit) 11 and leaving (Exit) 10 because I think there will be diversion, but I appreciate it so I am supporting the whole notion,” said Town Councilor Finlay Rothhaus.

Last year, town officials were asked whether they would entertain the idea of having the town take over ownership of Industrial Drive and the section of Continental Boulevard from Industrial Drive to Route 101A at Pennichuck Square. In return, the DOT would consider removing the tolls at both exits.

“The idea that we have to have a trade — thanks, but no thanks,” said Town Councilor Nancy Harrington.

Other councilors echoed that sentiment, saying they would not entertain the notion of taking over state-owned roads that would require costly maintenance each year.

Chandley said the Exit 11 toll generates up to $700,000 in revenue, admitting that DOT does not want to lose that money.

Koenig said he understands that concern, but maintained that the excessive tolls in Merrimack was a poorly crafted deal in the first place.

“We should be encouraging them to put the toll removal in the Ten Year Plan,” he added, referring to the state’s revolving transportation project plan.

Officials said earlier that the two remaining Merrimack tolls bring in a combined $2.6 million each year, although they cost about $1.12 million in operating costs.