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Toll hike included in new 10-year transportation plan



Monitor staff
Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Executive councilors inched closer to raising statewide toll prices Wednesday, sending a final draft 10-year transportation plan that includes projected revenues from a toll hike.

At a meeting of the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Intermodal Transportation – comprised of members of the Executive Council and the commissioner of the Department of Transportation – councilors formally signed off on the draft plan, which dictates spending roadway construction and repair priorities for the department. The draft now heads to Gov. Chris Sununu, who has until Jan. 15 to pass on his version to the Legislature.

Wednesday’s meeting technically had nothing to do with a recent proposal to increase tolls by 25 to 50 percent across the state. That vote – which is separate from the 10-year plan and does not need approval from the Legislature – is set to come before the Council at its next meeting Jan. 10.

But despite the vote weeks away, the plan advanced by the commission Wednesday has already factored in the revenue estimated to come out of the toll increases: $36 million a year, according to the department. DOT officials have said those revenue increases, designed to accelerate construction projects, are separate from the rest of the plan and could easily be reversed should the Council vote against the toll hikes.

Still, signs are pointing in the direction of a yes vote.

On Wednesday, Councilor Russell Prescott, the Kingston Republican who originally proposed the toll increase, indicated he still supports the plan despite stiff political opposition. Signing his name to the draft plan, Prescott pushed back at criticism he’s received from fellow Republicans that the plan would be fiscally irresponsible.

Increasing tolls, Prescott argued, would allow construction projects that residents have requested for years to be accelerated, including a sound barrier on Interstate 95 in Portsmouth and safety upgrades to exits 6 and 7 in Manchester. And it would free up separate DOT funds to be used to tackle New Hampshire’s red-listed bridges, which Prescott said are projected to increase in 10 years if money is not redirected.

“I want everyone to know that when I sign this, I am for the results that are needed for our state to make it a safer place, make our commutes shorter, safer  – and also reducing congestion makes our air quality better,” he said of the draft plan.

With the two Democratic councilors already in favor, Prescott’s support would tip the balance within the five-person committee. On Wednesday, Sununu, who personally opposes toll hikes, said he would allow the proposal onto the Council agenda if councilors request it.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)