CONCORD — Changes are coming to Interstate 93, including new full-service visitors' centers in Hooksett and high-speed tolling at the nearby toll plaza.
The Department of Transportation is ready to announce the winning bidder for two new, full-service welcome centers to replace the existing state liquor stores, visitors' centers and vending machines on the northbound and southbound sides of I-93 in Hooksett.
The Common Man's Alex Ray will lease the land for 35 years to construct single buildings on each side of the highway that will include state liquor stores, visitors' centers, 1950s-style dinners, Italian farmhouse restaurants, old-time delis, breakfast shops, convenience stores and 20 gas pumps.
The buildings will have a "New Hampshire mill building architectural style" according to the DOT. Construction is slated to begin in October. The northbound state liquor store is to be completed by November 2014, the southbound by March 2015.
The lease includes two five-year options at the state's discretion. The state will receive a minimum of $23.23 million over the 35 years of the lease and a portion of concession and gas sales that could bring the total to more than $39 million.
Maryland-based Host Internat'l and Chicago-based First Equity Group were the other bidders.
Just south of the service areas, transportation officials hope motorists will experience fewer delays going through the toll plaza when high-speed tolling opens later this month.
Gov. Maggie Hassan, Transportation Commissioner Christopher Clement and other notables are expected to be on hand at 11 a.m. May 22 for the ceremonial ribbon-cutting of the high-speed, E-ZPass toll lanes on Interstate 93 at the Hooksett toll booths.
The open-road tolling lanes will actually open early the following morning.
The $22.5 million project, which included upgrades to three bridges, is expected to improve the capacity of the highway five-fold and mean a faster trip for the nearly 70 percent of motorists who use E-Z Pass.
"Even though Hampton (open-road tolling) has been open for three years, this is going to be a new experience for people who drive the I-93 corridor. We think it will be well-received," said William Boynton, a state Transportation Department spokesman. "You save time, you save money. There's no lines, no slowdowns, no lane changes, no stopping." The Hooksett plaza will offer two high-speed lanes in each direction. Motorists without E-ZPass will pull off to pay a toll. There will be six toll booths on each side of the highway. Booth staffing will depend upon expected traffic volumes for the day.
People without E-ZPass who forget to pull off and pay a toll should go through the monitors. They will be traced through their plates and sent a bill for the toll and a $1 service charge, Boynton said.
The welcome center projects are estimated to cost $32 million, with the Liquor Commission reimbursing the developer $8.4 million for the liquor stores. The developer is to design, build, finance, maintain and operate the service areas with the exception of the liquor stores.
The Joint Long Range Capital Planning and Utilization Committee was to vote on the lease Tuesday, but declined because the DOT — with the advice of Associate Attorney General Richard Head — said the name of the winning bidder could not be announced while the state continues to negotiate. Head said the developer's lender was reviewing the lease and it is hoped it will be finalized this week.
Committee Chairman Rep. David Campbell, D-Nashua, said "with all due respect, the council would not vote on anything without knowing who is the party." If the planning committee approves the lease, the Executive Council will vote on it June 19.
New Hampshire Union Leader Staff Writer Mark Hayward contributed to this report.