additional commentary by Timothy Horrigan; August 30, 2011
This is a letter I wrote to the Dover, NH Foster's Daily Democrat about tolls on what I refer to as the New Hampshire Turnpike. It was actually officially renamed the Blue Star Turnpike some years ago, but we locals still use the old name. Under either name, it is the 16.2 mile section of I-95 which runs past new Hampshire's short but beautiful seacoast.
I was responding to a diatribe by another letter writer, Kathryn Holly of York, Maine, who thought our tolls were excessive. Ironically, turnpike tolls are in fact a little higher in her own home state.
Original URL (subject to link rot over time):
Tolls are low (August 29, 2011)
To the editor: I am a New Hampshire state representative who has witnessed two budget cycles, and I can assure Kathryn Holly of York, Maine (letter to the editor; Aug. 20) that the New Hampshire Turnpike System is not getting wealthy at the expense of travelers. The tolls are not low, but they are just barely enough to pay for the system's operating and capital expenses.
She rails against the $2.00 basic toll at the Hampton toll plaza, which she finds disproportionate to the length of the journey from Portsmouth to Seabrook (16 miles.) Ironically, it costs more than that— $3.00— to travel a similar distance (19 miles) from York to Kennebunk on the Maine Turnpike.
She mentions several other bridges on the East Coast which supposedly have less extortionate fares, at least on a "mile to mile" basis. She specifically mentions the Zakim Bridge in Boston which is indeed a bargain: it has no toll at all. She does not mention the "high bridge" connecting Portsmouth and Kittery, which is part of the New Hampshire Turnpike System and which is also toll-free.
Aside from the Zakim Bridge, Ms. Holly cites the Tappan Zee Bridge (basic fare $5 eastbound, free westbound), the George Washington Bridge ($8.00 eastbound, free westbound), and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel ($12 each way.) She claims that each of those facilities are cheaper "mile for mile" than the New Hampshire Turnpike. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel is about the same length as the Turnpike but has a fare six times as high, and those two bridges in the New York City area are just 2 or 3 miles each. I am not sure where she is finding the extra miles needed to make any of them cheaper "mile for mile" than our Turnpike (which costs 12.5 cents a mile if you travel the full 16 miles.)
An open letter to the N.H. Department of Transportation et al (August 20, 2011)
I want to express my long-held dismay at the impudence of the state of New Hampshire's lawmakers for the extremely high cost to go through the Hampton tolls. Riding 16.08 miles of highway = $2 each way? Really? Four dollars round-trip? Some people ride even fewer miles than that yet still have to pay out.
My late husband and I, along with our seven children, have traveled many interstates, having visited 39 of the 50 states, all by van. Never have we encountered a toll so disappointingly disproportionate to the length of the highway. Mile for mile, the Tappan Zee Bridge, the George Washington Bridge, the Zakim Bridge, and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnels tolls seem like bargains compared to New Hampshire's temerity in toll pricing.
Yes, you keep it nice. Yes, it is (too) well-enforced. Yes, you pave and repave it even when it doesn't need to be repaved. Yes, it is eight lanes wide— that is necessary because of the traffic backups at the New Hampshire toll. Imagine how far it would back up with only six lanes? I have seen southbound traffic on a summer Sunday backed up into Maine. Don't you make enough money selling alcohol to drivers, both north- and south-bound? And don't forget, as long as you keep Route 1 so pathetic, the more you'll push travelers to the gold-paved New Hampshire section of Interstate 95. I am also chagrined that I was unable to find any live-feed traffic cams on your Web site, though you have no trouble photographing presumed toll-evaders.
Keep paving! The more N.H. DOT spends, the more it can ask for in the next budget, right? As for me and my seven children, we are becoming experts in "shunpiking" and are spreading the word.
Shame on you. Since your tiny section of Interstate 95 is part of the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System even though it dishonors the System, my guess is that Ike would be irked at New Hampshire's avarice.
The New Hampshire Turnpike still has tolls at just one location: the Hampton toll booths at Exit 2. But, the whole stretch of road connecting Kittery, Maine to Salisbury, Massachusetts is now owned and operated by the Turnpike System and is paid for out of tolls and other revenues.
Ms. Holly alludes to one non-toll revenue source: i.e., the two roadside liquor stores on either side of the highway, in Hampton. However, the Turnpike System currently gets no revenues at all from the state's four roadside liquor stores. Going forward, the Turnpike System will get rent from two liquor stores on the Everett Turnpike in Hooksett, but only because the Liquor Commission sold the land to the Turnpike System as part of a project to upgrade roadside facilities. The system will continue getting no revenues at all from the two Hampton stores.
I didn't actually mention when or how the Piscataqua River Bridge (nicknamed the "High Bridge") connecting the New Hampshire and Maine Turnpikes came to be part of the New Hampshire Turnpike System. This happened during the 2009 state budget cycle, when the New Hampshire Turnpike System bought the bridge and the approach road from the regular highway department.
The three Piscataqua River crossings are collectively, by the way, the single biggest problem facing both New Hampshire and Maine's state highway systems. The oldest and easternmost bridge, the Memorial Bridge connecting downtown Portsmouth to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, is literally in a state of collapse and is being totally rebuilt. It is the #1 priority on New Hampshire's 10-year highway plan The Sarah Mildred Long Bridge, a mile or so upriver, is also in very bad shape and is the #2 priority. The I-95 bridge ranks fairly high (or low depending on how you look at it) at #54— and is scheduled for over $9 million worth of rehabilitation in 2017.