Should New Hampshire build new tolls?
By: LFDA Editor
Significant shortfalls in two of the state's larger transportation projects could lead to increased tolls.
On July 12, 2013, Department of Transportation Commissioner Christopher Clement said there won't be enough revenue from tolls in the Spaulding Turnpike fund to finish the current $260 million project to widen the roadway between Exit 1 in Portsmouth and the Dover tolls.
The lack of about $80 million could jeapardize the Dover end of the project, which includes widening the current four-lane road into eight-lanes, the remaking of Exit 6, the installation of soundwalls along a residential area of the road, and the creation of a roundabout on Route 4, replacing a traffic light at the intersection with Spur Road and Dover Point Road.
Clement said the two options to fund the rest of the project are a toll hike or a "pay-go" method of doing pieces of the remaining contracts as funds become available.
Concerns with a reported $1.3 billion revenue shortfall in the state's 10-year transportation plan have similarly spurred the call for new tolls along I-93.
Meanwhile, one of the three tolls along the Everett Turnpike in Merrimack was removed on July 18, 2014.
Tolls at exit 10,11 and 12 were constructed in 1989 as part of a deal that brought the the city of Merrimack nearly $50 million of road improvements related to industrial development. $22 million in long-term bonds still needs to be paid off for the Merrimack upgrades between now and 2022, reports the Nashua Telegraph. Merrimack residents argue that the Everett Turnpike tolls are unfair since other communities have not paid for infrastructure improvements with tolls.
The removal of tolls at Exit 12 is related to the passage of SB 367 - a bill calling for the increase of the state's gas tax. During negotiations in the Legislature, the bill was amended to include the toll closure. Demolition of the toll plaza is expected to cost the state $560,000.
Opponents of new tolls often argue that drivers will divert from the highway, clogging local roads. Opponents have also argued that new tolls would discourage tourism to New Hampshire. Supporters of new tolls, however, argue the money is crucial to fund bridge repairs, road maintenance and other needs.
Rep. Richard Barry is the primary sponsor of HB 384, a 2015 bill that establishes a committee to study the feasibility of privatizing the New Hampshire toll system.
SB 367 - a bill related to increasing the state's gas tax and later amended to include the removal of the Exit 12 toll on the Everett Turnpike - passed the House (193-141) and Senate (15-9) before it was signed into by Gov. Maggie Hassan.
Sen. Peter Bragdon (R-Milford) sponsored SB 3
, a bill calling for the removal of all tolls in Merrimack. It was voted down (201-72) in the House.
HB 257 called for the removal of tolls at Exit 12. It was rejected by the House in March. A similar bill - SB 3 - passed the Senate but was retained in committee in the House. A final attempt to remove the tolls at Exit 12 was added to SB 19 in conference committee, but it was quickly rejected.