Senate committee supports removal of one Merrimack toll
Friday, March 8, 2013
In a split 3-2 vote, the state Senate Ways and Means Committee approved the removal of one of three Merrimack tolls along the F.E. Everett Turnpike. The move is part of a compromise to take down the toll for northbound and southbound travellers at Exit 12.
The amendment would replace New Hampshire Senate President Peter Bragdon’s bill that would have gotten rid of ramp tolls at Exits 10, 11 and 12. The full Senate will vote on the measure March 14.
State transportation officials had opposed Bragdon’s bill citing it could mean a $2.5 million loss of revenue. The move would make the removal of Exit 12 revenue neutral because of higher traffic paying the toll at Exit 10 leading to the new Merrimack Outlets.
Bragdon had presented the bill, SB3, to the Senate in early February. He questioned the fairness of the tolls on the F.E. Everett Turnpike Exits 10, 11 and 12, versus the lack of tolls throughout the other sections of interstate highways.
He argued that the outlying towns and cities do not have to pay to go in and out of their residences, as Merrimack residents and commuters have for more than 20 years. For many New Hampshire
residents driving the Everett Turnpike is an everyday commute to work, school or other activities. More than any other drivers on Route 3, residents in Merrimack and surrounding towns feel the financial sting of the tolls when they travel go in and out of Merrimack.
“Since the construction of these ramp tolls in Merrimack in 1990 for a cost of $35 to 50 million, which the town agreed to have the tolls there until they offset the costs, everybody concedes that,” Bragdon said. “Everybody has gotten interchanges without having to pay for them, It is time to stop having Merrimack subsidize the rest of the turnpike system.
“They collect $3 million in tolls but spend $1.5 to $2 million a year to collect them,” he said.
“When you raise that little amount of money after having paid for the construction work in Merrimack many times over, it’s time to get rid of them. It’s the right thing to do in my opinion.”
Highway renovations along with no subsequent addition of tolls at various locations to pay for repairs and upgrades only solidifies the argument for fairness, Bragdon said.
“Since those (tolls) were added we’ve had the following: At Exit 2 in Nashua, a brand new interchange providing direct access to hudson across the river as well as the DW high way and commercial areas in Nashua. Along with a turnpike widening in Nashua that brought it from two lanes in each direction to three lanes in each direction, that was $200 million for that project and there were no tolls added,” Bragdon said.
The concern of the state, though, is the loss of revenue from removing the tolls. Bragdon acknowledged the exceptional annual loss of up $2.5 million, but argued the loss of revenue is easily affordable by the state highway fund, which budgeted $303 million for this year.
If the bill is passed by the Senate, the toll booths must be removed within 60 days from date of passage.