My Turn: A wrong turn on toll increases

For the Monitor
Saturday, January 06, 2018

The great part of living in a free society is a free exchange of ideas. The not-so-great part of living in a free society is that sometimes the opposition wins. When I learned that Gov. Chris Sununu would not allow the Executive Council to raise the tolls on our highways, I was reminded of this difficult aspect of the democratic process.

This toll increase has been a contentious issue. As this issue affected all users, everyone had their opinions. Did I have a vested interest in the proposed toll increase? Of course I did. As a professional engineer and executive vice president of CLD/Fuss & O’Neill, the projects that this increase would have generated would have been good for my company. But I am also a resident. I drive along the Concord, Manchester, Merrimack and Nashua turnpike corridor on a regular basis. I’ve seen the accidents and I’ve sat in the traffic. And it’s very frustrating for me to experience the congestion and recognize the safety deficiencies all while knowing that I could actually make the situation better.

Yes, the increase seemed like a big hike. Yes, it would have affected every resident, but discounts were being proposed for commuters who met certain criteria. Also, a good portion of the revenue generated, more than half, in fact, would have come from out-of-state vehicles. The New Hampshire Department of Transportation Turnpike Bureau was prepared to apply these funds directly to the turnpike system. There was no concern that the money would have been channeled into other areas. And make no mistake about it, that money would have led to improvements.

If they had been approved, the toll hikes would have accelerated the timetable for completing existing projects in the state’s 10-year highway plan, while adding new ones to the roster. There are three large projects that will greatly improve our highway (the Nashua to Bedford Project, the Manchester Interchange Exit 6 Project, and the Bow-Concord project) that could have begun construction three to six years earlier. The safety of our road users will continue to deteriorate during this delay period. Selfishly, I hope that the safety impacts do not directly impact my family, friends, business associates and the first responders. Travel delays will also negatively impact our tourism industry, businesses that rely upon the delivery of goods, and the attractiveness of key areas such as the Millyard in Manchester to grow and develop in new industries.

If we want change, we have to create change. I think we all want our state to grow and prosper. To do so, we need to be attractive to new businesses and industries. We have to have systems in place that can handle commerce, manufacturing and large corporations. Even more important than that is the safety of our communities and our residents. My family uses these roads – I want to know that they are safe.

This increase would have yielded far-reaching benefits for the entire community. And a community is at its best when it comes together to solve problems. I hope that we can come together to address our aging infrastructure. If there’s another way to fix our roads, great, I’m open to it. Though the measure was defeated, I hope that the discussion will continue. This problem will not solve itself. It is up to us to support the infrastructure that supports us.

(Christopher R. Bean lives in Manchester.)

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