Toll-free solution advocated

MERRIMACK – The Board of Selectmen on Thursday endorsed the “partial-build” option for the Circumferential Highway, but with a stipulation.

Construction of the highway shouldn’t be paid for by tolls, the board decided.

Even with that attachment, the highway option generated its share of debate, as selectmen weighed in on the collateral damage – and benefits – to the town from a project devised mainly to relieve traffic in Nashua.

“I don’t believe the Circumferential Highway does anything for Merrimack except put traffic on Route 3,” Selectman Tony Pellegrino said.

“There is really no benefit to the town of Merrimack besides helping our neighbor, Nashua, relieve some of its traffic congestion,” he said.

Selectmen voted 3-1 to endorse the so-called partial build, with Pellegrino opposing it. Selectman Norman Carr was absent.

The board also voted 3-1 – Pellegrino again cast the sole no vote – to authorize board Chairman Dick Hinch to work on wording that ties the approval to a stipulation that the highway not be paid for by tolls.

Tolls are a contentious issue in town, but selectmen stressed that the wording of the stipulation should not be belligerent.

The vote to endorse a highway plan was requested by the Nashua Regional Planning

Commission, which also asked Nashua, Hudson and Commission, which also asked Nashua, Hudson and Litchfield to take a stance on the road path. The Board of Selectmen and Planning Board held a joint meeting and public hearing on the issue, and the Planning Board endorsed the partial-build option after discussions at two meetings.

The partial-build option would create a new Exit 9 off the F.E. Everett Turnpike, add a bridge over the Merrimack River and connect to Route 3A in Litchfield and eventually to Routes 102 and 111 in Hudson. The highway would be intended to alleviate traffic in Hudson and Nashua and lessen the number of cars using the Taylor Falls Bridge between the two.

The plan would increase traffic on Daniel Webster Highway in Merrimack and provide a more direct link between the town and communities to the east. The highway would cross the extreme southern end of Merrimack, just north of the Nashua line and south of the Harris Pond office park. That path would have the least effect on Merrimack traffic, officials said.

The highway would have two potential benefits to town. First, it could make industrial land in the south more attractive to businesses by providing easier access to workers who live across the river in Litchfield, Hudson, Londonderry and other points east. Second, Merrimack residents who work in those towns would have a shorter commute to their jobs.

The road could bring workers to the town without adding houses, making additional schools and other expensive services unnecessary, Town Manager Dean Shankle said.

“All of that would have happened, but there’s a river in the way,” he said.

Because construction is at least 10 years away, depending on how high a priority the road remains with the state transportation department, any potential benefit to the town is a “crapshoot” at best, Shankle said.

“If you want economic development, if you want growth, generally, getting from place to place is a good thing,” he said.

But in toll-burdened Merrimack, discussions of the highway have usually included tollbooths – specifically, not adding new ones while getting rid of the existing ones at Exits 10, 11 and 12 of the F.E. Everett Turnpike. “Everybody has heard Merrimack’s story on tolls,” said Planning Board Chairman Nelson Disco, who attended the selectmen’s meeting. “It’s well told around that Merrimack doesn’t like tolls.”

John Segedy, also a Planning Board member, suggested that selectmen tie their endorsement to not having tolls pay for the new road.

But Pellegrino wanted to take the idea a step farther. He said Merrimack should withhold its support unless the towns that would benefit from the Circumferential Highway join Merrimack in lobbying to have the current tolls removed.

“I’ll tell you what, Hudson, Nashua, Litchfield, you help us get our tolls removed, we’ll help you get your Circumferential Highway,” Pellegrino said.

Patrick Meighan can be reached at 594-6518 or