PORTSMOUTH, N.H. (AP) – Gov. Craig Benson popped in on a meeting about resuming one-way tolls along Interstate 95 this summer to personally plug the idea and dispute critics who say it just sends more traffic onto local roads.

“I know this is a radical, new way of doing things. I happen to think it’s a good idea, ” Benson said after listening to a few residents’ opinions about the proposal Thursday night at City Council chambers.

The meeting was called by the state Transportation Department to hear what residents thinks about running the toll plan for a second summer. After about 45 minutes, Benson quietly walked into the back of the room.

He said the experiment was a small step toward eliminating growing traffic problems along the Seacoast.

He also disputed reports from police chiefs in towns along the route that doubling the northbound toll and eliminating southbound tolls diverted more traffic onto side roads like Route 1.

“I drove Route 1 every single day last summer and it stunk both before and after the experiment,” Benson said.

The Transportation Department said the experiment eased traffic tie-ups on the highway, but increased traffic on local roads, partly because drivers tried to avoid the double, northbound toll. It said traffic increased by as much as 10 percent on Route 1.

However, Benson presented figures that said traffic on the side roads decreased.

State Rep. Laura Pantelakos, D-Portsmouth, said the governor was doing more for tourists than residents.

“I don’t understand why the governor’s council wouldn’t want to make it easier for people getting to work than tourists getting out of the state,” she said.

Portsmouth resident Bill St. Laurent said he supported the one-way toll plan and argued that cars using Route 1 as an alternative would eventually return to the highway because it is faster.

“I do feel sorry for the people on Route 1 … but I think it will alleviate itself eventually,” he said.

Some residents said the hearing was moot, because they believe the decision to resume the one-way tolls already has been made. But a Transportation Department official and Benson said nothing is final.

“This is an open meeting and we have got a vote to take,” Benson said. “This is by no way a done deal.”

Benson pushed the one-way tolls after getting caught in a big traffic jam last summer.

AP-ES-04-09-04 1325EDT

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