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Friday, May 10, 2013

Toll-weary Merrimack residents, businesses disappointed again

MERRIMACK – Yet another delay in the seemingly eternal struggle for toll-booth relief had battle-weary residents and businesses rolling their eyes Tuesday.

The news that their latest hope – a bill to close the Exit 12 tollbooth – was once again relegated to the back burner by political maneuvering in Concord even inspired Axel’s Food & Ice Cream owner JoAnn Costa to reinstate her “tollbooth special” for Nashua residents willing to cough up the change to get to her shop. ...

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MERRIMACK – Yet another delay in the seemingly eternal struggle for toll-booth relief had battle-weary residents and businesses rolling their eyes Tuesday.

The news that their latest hope – a bill to close the Exit 12 tollbooth – was once again relegated to the back burner by political maneuvering in Concord even inspired Axel’s Food & Ice Cream owner JoAnn Costa to reinstate her “tollbooth special” for Nashua residents willing to cough up the change to get to her shop.

“If you’re from Nashua, we’ll pay your toll,” Costa proclaimed while serving customers craving ice cream in Tuesday’s near 80-degree sunshine. “We did it before … let’s do it again.”

Axel’s, at 608 Daniel Webster Highway, is probably the closest locally owned business to Bedford Road, with which the Exit 12 ramps connect. But another – Collectible Arms & Ammo – will be just opposite Bedford Road when it moves into the former Sam’s Quick Stop at 619 Daniel Webster Highway later this month.

“If the people of Merrimack didn’t have to shoulder the burden ourselves, it wouldn’t be so bad,” Collectible owner Keith Cox said of the Exit 12 toll. “I certainly don’t understand why we Merrimack residents have to pay to get on and pay to get off the highway in our own town.”

Unlike many of his neighbors, Cox, who plans to be in his new location in early June, doesn’t need to use the turnpike to go to and from work every day. “When I do (pay a toll) it’s no big deal for me, I have EZ Pass,” he said. “But it wold be wonderful for my business if they closed Exit 12 (tollbooth).”

Cox echoed a sentiment long held by many over the toll system in the state’s southern tier: “I say, put a big (tollbooth) at the
Massachusetts-New Hampshire border.”

Meanwhile, residents of the area are at least as tired as business owners of having tollbooths at all three of their town’s exits off the F.E. Everett Turnpike.

“It’s always been that way,” said Mike Morgan, who, as a Back River Road resident, is all too familiar with paying to get on and off the Everett Turnpike. “We’re paying for someone to sit there,” he added, questioning how cost-effective the Exit 12 booths really are in the big picture.

Over at 563 Daniel Webster Highway, where Bob and Dee’s Hairstyling and Barbershop shares a small plaza with a nail salon and pizza shop, Denise Reczko said she hears about Merrimack’s tolls mostly from her Nashua clients.

“We have quite a few that come from Nashua, no matter what exit they take, they have to pay a toll,” Reczko said. “I think they need to do away with them. We get nailed here in Merrimack.”

Costa and Morgan said they believe the steady decline in Exit 12 toll revenue was spurred in large part by the November 2011 opening of Raymond Wieczorek Drive, the 1.75-mile access road built to connect the Everett Turnpike to Manchester-Boston Regional Airport.

“A lot of people just started using that instead,” Costa said of the access road. Morgan agreed. “People go around (Exit 12) now because they can use the airport road. It’s got to make a difference,” he said of the revenue generated by the Exit 12 booths.

For Costa, waiting is the hardest part.

“I thought they were going to remove those long ago,” she said of the tollbooths. “I live in Nashua, so like a lot of people I have to pay to get off and pay to get back on.

“I just think it’s so ridiculous that Merrimack has three tollbooths. I bet no other city or town has that many.”

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-6443 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Shalhoup on Twitter (@Telegraph_DeanS).