Executive Council votes to endorse toll hike; hearings set for Tuesday

  • The State House dome as seen on March 5, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ

Monitor staff
Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Executive councilors voted to endorse a statewide toll hike Wednesday, in a non-binding decision indicating the body’s preference ahead of hearings next week.

In a 3-2 vote, councilors amended the latest draft of New Hampshire’s 10-year transportation plan so that it factors revenue from the proposed toll increases – despite the fact that those increases have not yet been approved by the council – according to Councilor Andru Volinsky, D-Concord.

The proposed increases would raise cash rates along the Hooksett toll booth on Interstate 93 from $1 to $1.50 in cash, or 70 cents to $1.05 with EZ-Pass.

Councilors voted to meet again Dec. 20 to hold a final vote on whether to recommend the amended plan to Gov. Chris Sununu, Volinsky said. At a later meeting, the Executive Council then plans to hold a vote on whether to formalize the toll hikes themselves.

The council also scheduled two public hearings ahead of the Dec. 20 vote: in Concord on Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the Department of Transportation headquarters; and at Manchester’s City Hall at 7 p.m.

The somewhat-disorienting schedule of events comes as councilors tinker with a 10-year plan to send to the Republican governor – one of the group’s key tasks every two years. After the council sends its draft, the governor faces a Jan. 15 deadline to make changes and send a plan to the Legislature, which must then make a final approval.

This year, Councilor Russell Prescott, R-Kingston, introduced a plan to increase revenue by raising toll prices, an action that doesn’t require legislative approval. But after criticism that the vote was being rushed without public input, a scheduled council vote Wednesday was removed from the agenda to allow for hearings.

It is unclear when or whether a vote on the proposed toll increases might be reintroduced. Sununu, who personally opposes toll increases, has control over what comes before the council’s agenda; he has not said this week whether he would allow the measure to be reintroduced.

But in its vote Wednesday, the council approved a draft plan that allows the Department of Transportation to assume the toll hikes do get approved, a move the department has estimated would bring in $36 million of revenue a year.

Councilors Prescott, Volinsky and Chris Pappas, D-Manchester, approved the draft plan; David Wheeler, R-Milton, and Kenney, R-Union, opposed.

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