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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Bragdon addresses Merrimack Town Council on toll relief

MERRIMACK – Town councilors said they’re willing to compromise on some sort of toll relief after a visit by Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford.

Bradgon came before the council at its regular meeting Thursday night to talk about what’s going on in the Senate, specifically addressing “the elephant in the room” that is Merrimack tolls. He has introduced a bill that would get rid of the toll plazas at Exits 10, 11 and 12, all of which are in town. ...

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MERRIMACK – Town councilors said they’re willing to compromise on some sort of toll relief after a visit by Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford.

Bradgon came before the council at its regular meeting Thursday night to talk about what’s going on in the Senate, specifically addressing “the elephant in the room” that is Merrimack tolls. He has introduced a bill that would get rid of the toll plazas at Exits 10, 11 and 12, all of which are in town.

The plazas were constructed 24 years ago after the town accepted roughly $50 million in road improvements to help promote industrial development. The
turnpike system is a separate, self-funded organization from the rest of
New Hampshire roadways, Bragdon said.

“We’re sort of worn out,” Town Council Chairman Tom Mahon said. “From my perspective, I would appreciate if some groundwork would be done ahead of time before you go on the floor and talk about removing them. Every two years, we go through the same discussion.”

Bragdon said he took a different approach at trying to address the long-standing issue. He cited fairness of the system, and that there have been many turnpike improvements in Nashua, Manchester and Concord without levying a toll or erecting any new plazas.

Bragdon addressed the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday , saying New Hampshire turnpikes could absorb the $2.5 million annual revenue loss if all three toll plazas were shut down.

“Look what’s happened everywhere else,” Bragdon said. “This is no longer fair to the people of Merrimack.”

At Tuesday’s Senate committee meeting, Turnpike Administrator Chris Waszczuk said there are $22 million in long-term bonds still to be paid off for the Merrimack upgrades until 2022. In a letter to the panel, Transportation Commissioner Chris Clement advised those wanting to do away with Merrimack tolls to package it with an increase in the toll rate to help pay for improvements on the F.E. Everett Turnpike in Nashua, Merrimack, Bedford, Bow and Concord.

Mahon said there are some practical matters surrounding the conditions of the bonds with the state.

“Promises were made and assertions were made when this whole thing started back in the ’80s,” he said. “Unfortunately, our representatives didn’t get those in writing.”

Mahon said one of the promises is that the tolls would go away once the bonds were paid off.

He also wants to know how the cost of removing the booths would be paid. Mahon said it would cost upward of $2 million and that the town has been asked if it would buy the booths. He made a comment last year that Merrimack would pay for their removal when Nashua pays for theirs.

Councilor Nancy Harrington said she lives near Exit 10 and has a vested interest in getting rid of the toll at that exit. But she called herself a realist, saying this exit is the moneymaker with all of the traffic coming in to BAE Systems, Fidelity and the Merrimack Premium Outlets.

Councilor Dan Dwyer said he agreed with his colleagues in not taking an all-or-nothing approach and is open to compromise if only some of the tolls would be closed.

“I think anything that comes with the removal of even one is a victory,”
Dwyer said.

Mahon mentioned a monitoring system that would exempt Merrimack residents from having to pay tolls while going through the plazas. Bragdon said he wanted to present legislation with more teeth first, but would consider researching such a system.

Erin Place can be reached at 594-6589 or eplace@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Place on Twitter (@Telegraph_ ErinP).