Open-road tolling ready to roll in Hooksett
Welcome to life in the fast lanes.
That’s the forecast for those who subscribe to the new open-road tolling program, to be unveiled in a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday at the Hooksett toll booth before taking effect early the next day.
After a year of construction and $22.9 million, the four E-ZPass lanes will allow drivers to move smoothly through at highway speed, a 65 mph limit, as the Department of Transportation looks to keep traffic flowing at the busy plaza.
“We really wanted to get this open before Memorial Day Weekend,” said DOT spokesman Bill Boynton.
Mission accomplished, with a day to spare. Gov. Maggie Hassan will cut the ribbon Wednesday morning at 11 in a ceremony attended by several yet-to-be-determined lawmakers. The lanes will open about 4 the next morning, although Boynton had no exact starting time.
The idea mirrors the plan at the tolls in Hampton, introduced three years ago this weekend to relieve traffic there, caused mostly by vacationers heading to the beach areas.
“It’s been very successful down there,” Boynton said. “There have certainly been legendary backups on the (Interstate) 95 corridor, and while we never promised open-road tolling would eliminate lines, it certainly reduced the congestion along that corridor. While Hooksett is not congested all the time, it has its moments during the summer months.”
This weekend, generally regarded as the start of summer, is one of four busier-than-usual time slots, Boynton said, along with the Fourth of July, Labor Day Weekend and Columbus Day Weekend.
Boynton estimates that the Hooksett tolls can see up to 80,000 vehicles on some days, and have totaled 25 million over past summers. “The biggest traffic volume in Hooksett and the whole system is August, at the peak of the summer tour season,” Boynton said.
Those tourists will enjoy four lanes of seamless travel in Hooksett, with two lanes moving in each direction. The roadway leading to the tolls is an 1,800-foot stretch separated by 4-foot-high concrete barriers, with another 1,800 feet extending out the other side.
“You’re in this corridor and going at highway speed and there won’t be any last-second lane changing and no speed disparities,” Boynton said. “You’re entering it early and by the time you leave it, there’s 1,800 feet on the other side of the plaza, and those who stopped to pay or slowed down to pay are back up to speed and you’re all merging at similar speeds.”
There is a drawback: A commitment to the E-ZPass lane locks people in, forcing drivers to use the fast lane even if they don’t have the plastic piece needed on their windshield.
In 2005, the first year of the E-ZPass system in Hooksett, which permitted speeds up to 35 mph, officials charged a $25 fee for blowing through the lane without the pass. “That proved problematic,” Boynton said.
Now, drivers who improperly move through the speed lanes will be expected to pay, by mail, a $1 administrative fee, plus the toll charge.
“If you’re chronic or don’t pay the minimum fee, that cranks it up to another level where you can get a $25 fee,” Boynton said. “But it’s not a big deal the first time.”
Motorists who want their E-ZPass quickly, before the start of the upcoming long weekend, can buy them at walk-in centers in Hooksett, Nashua and Portsmouth. Account fees save 30 percent on regular toll charges.
Passes can also be purchased through the mail by visiting ezpassnh.com or calling 1-877-643-9727.
The construction project also included the restoration of three bridges south of the plaza, each of which had been categorized on the state’s red list, meaning they were in urgent need of repair.