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  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    A view of the new roadway and bridge above the Merrimack River.

  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Governor John Lynch jokes around with Executive Councilor Raymond Wieczorek during a ceremony Thursday, November 10, 2011, dedicating the new Manchester airport access road to Wieczorek.

  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Wendy Goddard of Derry takes her grandson, 14-month-old Stephen Goddard for a bicycle ride following a ceremony Thursday, November 10, 2011, dedicating the new Manchester airport access road to Raymond Wieczorek. The roadway officially opens November 11.

  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Members of the Merrimack High School chorus sing during a dedication ceremony Thursday, November 10, 2011, for Raymond Wieczorek Drive.

  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    The Rev. Paul Montminy sprinkles water toward Governor John Lynch during a blessing of the roadway during the dedication of Raymond Wieczorek Drive linking the F.E. Everett Turnpike to the Manchester Airport Thursday, November 10, 2011.

  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Speakers are seated across the eastbound lanes during the new Manchester airport access road dedication Thursday, November 10, 2011.

  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Executive Councilor Raymond Wieczorek speaks during a ceremony Thursday, November 10, 2011, dedicating the new Manchester airport access road to him.

Friday, November 11, 2011

As Manchester airport access road opens, state faces drop in toll revenue

MANCHESTER – Freshly paved and painted, the newly minted Raymond Wieczorek Drive is a smooth ride. But beneath the surface sits an $5 million hole.

After 20 years of planning, state officials opened the new airport access road opened to traffic Friday morning. But, even as they cut the proverbial ribbon, planners are still working to recover the millions of dollars in tolls they expect to lose on account of the roadway. Estimates vary, but transportation planners project that the 1.75-mile roadway, which connects the F.E. Everett Turnpike to the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, could cost the state as much as $5 million annually by allowing traffic to bypass the Bedford toll plaza.

In total, the project cost $175 million, including almost $16 million in federal stimulus funding.

“There’s no doubt. It’s a lot of money,” said state Rep. Gene Chandler , chairman of the House Public Works and Highway Committee, which discussed the matter earlier this year but took no formal action.

“Tolls are always tough, but if you want new highways, there’s no other way to pay for it,” Chandler, a Bartlett Republican, said Thursday. “I’m optimistic we’ll get something done this year.”

Last fall, state planners presented a report that outlined 11 options to adjust or reconfigure the toll setup to recoup the lost revenues.

The report, developed by Wilbur Smith Associates, a South Carolina engineering firm, detailed proposals to establish new tolls, either traditional or electronic, at the entrance to the access road or at the state border in Nashua, among other options.

But, most of the plans included heavy infrastructure costs, among other flaws, and of the 11 proposals, only two would come within reach of the lost revenue estimates, according to the report.

Those plans proposed to construct a new toll plaza in Nashua, between exits 1 and 2, or to relocate the Bedford tolls south to Merrimack, both of which earned strong objectives from community members, and legislators took no formal action on either, instead sending the report back for further study.

“(Many legislators are) not happy about the loss of toll revenues, and neither are we. But it’s a question of, is there any good way of proceeding?” said Bill Boynton, a spokesman with the state Department of Transportation.

Two local lawmakers believe they have found one possible answer.

State Reps. David Campbell, D-Nashua, and John Graham, R-Bedford, have filed legislation that proposes to construct a new open road tolling system at Exit 10 in Merrimack. The tolls, similar to the system installed on Interstate 95 in Hampton, would allow drivers to pass through the overhead toll at speeds up to 65 miles per hour. It would help to recover much of the lost tolls from northbound traffic, according to Campbell, and it would also help to relieve some of the toll woes in Merrimack, allowing planners to eliminate one or two of the town’s toll booths.

Merrimack, which has tolls at exits 10, 11 and 12, is believed to be the only town in the state with tolls at every turnpike exit.

“It puts tollbooths in the right place and it would put to rest, once and for all, the idea of putting a toll at the border (in Nashua),” said Campbell, who sits on the highways committee. “It could work well. We’ll see what comes of it.”

The House committee won’t take up the matter until next year at the earliest, and even if the bill gain traction, it would likely be years before the open road toll is constructed, Campbell conceded.

Meanwhile, state planners are prepared to suffer the loss of revenue for a number of years. But, at some point, the losses could force them to cut back on construction plans, said Boynton, the transportation department spokesman.

All toll revenues stay within the turnpike system, funding road repairs and expansions.

State officials have not calculated the costs of plowing and maintenance on the new airport road, but that will add to the department’s costs, as well, he said.

“It’s not like we didn’t know from a long time ago that this (road) was an eventuality,” Boynton said. “The decision was made probably over a decade ago … but it will certainly affect the bottom line. As we move forward, we’ll have to take that into account as we look at future projects.”

Jake Berry can be reached at 594-6402 or