CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – Southbound drivers stuck in two-to-three mile traffic backups on Interstate 95 may get some relief by the weekend.

The Executive Council, a five-person elected board, will vote Thursday whether to double tolls for northbound traffic and eliminate tolls for southbound traffic at the Hampton toll plaza to speed up southbound traffic.

For example, the current toll each way for autos is $1. If approved, the northbound drivers would pay $2 and their return trip south would be free.

Gov. Craig Benson wants to try the idea for six to 10 weeks to see if it eases traffic backups, said Senate Majority Leader Robert Clegg.

If approved, the test would start at midnight Thursday.

“From my point of view, it’s worth a shot. If it works, great. If not, we’ve not lost anything,” said Clegg, R-Hudson.

House Speaker Pro Tem Sheila Francoeur, R-Hampton, said the interstate is frequently “a parking lot” due to backups at the Hampton and York, Maine, toll plazas.

“I think they’ve got to do something,” she said. “You could walk faster.”

Francoeur said the change would not be popular – at least initially – with area merchants fearful some drivers, especially truckers, would seek alternate routes.

Trucks pay higher tolls, which could encourage them to use nearby Route 1 and other roads to bypass the doubled fee. The largest trucks could pay $8 under the doubled toll system, said Transportation Department spokesman Bill Boynton.

“Route 1 is already congested,” Francoeur said of the heavily traveled beach highway.

But if the change keeps traffic moving on the interstate, “that would be better for everyone,” she said.

The public got little advance notice of the proposal. The council agenda had not been released by late Wednesday afternoon.

Doc Noel, president of the Hampton Area Chamber of Commerce, was caught by surprise when The Union Leader contacted him for comment.

“I didn’t know about it,” he told The Associated Press.

Noel said he couldn’t comment on the proposal until he spoke with his board.

Councilor Peter Spaulding also said Wednesday afternoon he had not received any information from the governor’s office in advance of the special meeting called to vote on the proposal.

“It’s not a simple question,” he said. “You want to avoid backups, but you also don’t want semi-tractor trailer trucks going through Hampton beach Labor Day weekend.”

Spaulding said he could support giving free passage to southbound autos, but not trucks.

“I think I’d want restrictions,” he said. “You don’t want to divert all that traffic into one of the major tourist areas of the state, particularly truck traffic.”

Robert Sculley of the New Hampshire Motor Transport Association said he assumed most truck drivers would go through the tolls rather than seek alternate routes.

Spaulding also said he would need assurances the state would not lose money needed to maintain its toll roads.

Keith Herman, a Benson spokesman, said the state would make the same money either way.

Herman said state transportation officials would study traffic patterns to see if drivers began using alternate routes.

“(The change) should improve congestion. It should improve motorist satisfaction,” said Herman.

Boynton said signs were being prepared in case the council approves the change for immediate implementation. Electronic message signs also would be used to notify motorists, he said.

The toll rates for entering and leaving the highway from Route 101 would not change, he noted.

AP-ES-08-20-03 1629EDT



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