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Thursday, July 3, 2014

The last toll at Exit 12 will be paid at 8:59 p.m. on July 18

Merrimack will lose one of its F.E. Everett Turnpike tolls at 9 p.m. Friday, July 18, after trying to get rid of it since before the booths even opened in November 1990.

But don’t expect the town’s other two toll plazas, which are more heavily used, to disappear anytime soon. ...

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Merrimack will lose one of its F.E. Everett Turnpike tolls at 9 p.m. Friday, July 18, after trying to get rid of it since before the booths even opened in November 1990.

But don’t expect the town’s other two toll plazas, which are more heavily used, to disappear anytime soon.

The northernmost of the town’s three tolls is disappearing as part of a political deal in which the state’s gasoline tax was increased for the first time in 23 years. The original bill sought to remove all three Merrimack tolls, but officials said that would have cost too much.

Demolishing the Exit 12 booths, northbound and southbound, will cost about $560,000, said New Hampshire Department of Transportation spokesman Bill Boynton.

The toll brings in $940,000 annually and costs about $340,000 to run, so the state highway system will see its revenue decline by about $600,000 a year.

The Exit 12 toll plaza sees average daily traffic of about 4,500 vehicles. Exit 10 sees about 6,500 cars a day and Exit 11 about 6,000 vehicles, so shutting either of them would cost around $1 million each in lost revenue annually.

Increasing the state gas tax from 18 cents to 22.2 cents a gallon is expected to bring in $33 million a year, to be used for road and bridge work around the state.

The law removing the Exit 12 tolls said they had to be gone within 60 days of it being signed by Gov. Maggie Hassan – hence the July 18 deadline.

Signs will be removed from the turnpike during the day and traffic will be “channelized,” in highway terminology, through the overwide right lane. The plaza has three full-time employees who will be moved to other jobs within the turnpike system, Boynton said.

The plaza buildings will be secured, including a tunnel that runs underneath the exit road between the offices and the booths so employees could transport cash and tokens without being run down by commuters running late. (Telegraph requests to see the tunnel were declined by highway officials, citing concerns about publicity leading to future vandalism.)

The state will put out a separate contract to demolish the toll plaza, canopy and concrete islands. The tollbooths will be stored for possible future use, and no decision has yet been made about whether the plaza office building will remain, Boynton said.

The tolls were installed in 1990 as part of long, complicated debate over funding the expansion of the F.E. Everett Turnpike. Even before that, Merrimack officials were quoted in Telegraph stories as saying it was unfair to have three tolls in their town but none in Nashua or Manchester – an argument that continues to this day. By 1991, state representatives from the town were introducing the first of scores of bills to reduce or eliminate toll payments for town residents, none of which have passed.

The gas tax debate in the Legislature this year included arguments about removing all three Merrimack tolls, an idea that was soundly rejected.

The state could spend $1.6 million to remove the north- and southbound ramp tolls at Exit 11 – but only if the mainline tollbooth in Bedford, one of the busiest in New Hampshire, is moved south and after the town of Merrimack agrees to take over responsibility for maintaining Continental Boulevard from the state.

Neither is likely to happen anytime soon.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Brooks on Twitter (@GraniteGeek).