March 19. 2013 2:40PM

Merrimack toll booths getting a lot of attention, fewer collectors

Union Leader Correspondent

MERRIMACK - There has been a lot of attention in recent weeks on the three toll booths in Merrimack, and state officials just announced even more changes heading this way this week.

Beginning this Friday, the N.H. Department of Transportation will discontinue using toll workers during the nighttime hours at the Exit 11 toll plaza on the F.E. Everett Turnpike in Merrimack. Daily from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., the toll booth will not be staffed, according to Bill Boynton, spokesman for the department.

"These are lower-volume times, and we are continuing to try to come up with efficiencies for our staffing," Boynton said Tuesday. "No one is going to be losing their job, we are just reallocating employees to different time periods."

Instead of paying a toll attendant, motorists who do not have an EZPass account will have to abide by the honor system, Boynton said. The tolls at Exits 10 and 12 in Merrimack also follow the honor system and are not staffed at night.

"People abide the honor system, and it tends to work well," he said.

Without a toll collector on site, motorists without EZPass will have three options to pay. First, they may enter the exact-change lane and pay the 50-cent toll. If they do not have any money or lack the exact amount of change, motorists may enter the exact-change lane and pick up a pre-printed envelope that can be mailed or processed at the Hooksett Administration Building to pay the toll, along with an additional 50-cent processing fee.

The third option is to enter the EZPass lane, and the system will collect an image of the motorist's license plate. The registered owner of the vehicle will be mailed an invoice for the 50-cent toll and a $1 invoicing fee.

"This is like any E-ZPass violation. If you get a series of violations and ignore them, it can jack up to bigger money. This can come back to haunt you when you re-register your car," Boynton said.

The changes at Exit 11 are expected to improve the efficiency of toll-collection operations during the hours when traffic is minimal, Boynton said.

More significant changes at the Merrimack tolls could soon be approaching, as the state Senate last week passed proposed legislation to remove the ramp tolls at Exit 12. Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, sponsored Senate Bill 3, which was originally drafted to remove the tolls at all three exits in Merrimack, but was ultimately amended to include only Exit 12.

The bill has not yet been presented to the House of Representatives for a vote.

"Something needs to be done," Bragdon recently told the Merrimack Town Council, adding the ball needs to start rolling now to help alleviate some of the unfair burden placed on Merrimack motorists because of the multiple toll booths. At the time, Councilor Dan Dwyer said that anything - even the elimination of just one toll booth - would be a victory for Merrimack.

"We would have a weekend festival," he said last month, promising that the town would pick up the tab to physically remove a toll booth. "Don't worry about the cost of removal. We will take care of it," he said.