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One-way toll is a money loser, N.H. says

CONCORD, N.H. -- The state would lose $1 million in revenues if a one-way toll experiment, scheduled to end Nov. 1, were to continue for an entire year, according to state transportation estimates.

In August, the state eliminated the $1 southbound tolls on Interstate 95 and doubled them in the northbound side to ease traffic backups, especially on weekends.

The state estimates it lost $104,000 in the first 37 days of the experiment. Officials project the losses could have grown to roughly $1 million over a year, though they caution the estimate is based on figures from peak traffic times.

The preliminary numbers showed a 5 percent drop in northbound traffic and a 5 percent increase in southbound traffic. Officials say they aren't sure which roads were used by drivers avoiding the $2 tolls.

Transportation Commissioner Carol Murray said yesterday she plans to refine the estimate and offer recommendations in mid-February on whether to reinstitute one-way tolls to Governor Craig Benson and the Executive Council.

Murray said the experiment was ended due to safety issues, not declining toll collections. She said it would be harder to keep snow and ice cleared from the southbound plaza area without cars stopping to pay tolls.

Benson pushed through the experiment a week after he got caught in a 4-mile traffic backup at the toll plaza.

"There's no question the one-way tolling cleared the backups and the backups were extreme," said Murray. The experiment will end Nov. 1 unless the weather is icy and a safety hazard, in which case transportation officials will wait until Nov. 3 to move signs and make other changes.

Benson said suspending the plan over the winter will give the state time to study complaints that cars and trucks left the highway to avoid a double toll and drove on side roads, especially Route 1.

Murray said she also is investigating two alternatives to easing backups: moving up the electronic toll collection program called EZ Pass from early in 2005 to next June or instituting high-speed toll collection. Like EZ Pass, high-speed toll collection registers tolls electronically but with vehicles moving at normal traffic speeds. Cars must slow down under the EZ Pass system.

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