Toll hikes just a first step

Governor Lynch and the Executive Council took a good first step earlier this month in attempting to get a handle on the increasingly questionable conditions of our roads and bridges. But simply increasing tolls on the turnpikes – the first increase in nearly 20 years – is only a first step.

The toll increases, which will be borne almost exclusively by commuters in the southern part of the state and visitors from outside it, are solely dedicated to making improvements on New Hampshire’s 93-mile turnpike system. There are improvements and repairs required on thousands more miles of our roads and bridges that the toll increase has nothing to do with. And the Executive Council, at least at this point, can do nothing about it.

There will, of course, be many things on the plate of state legislators next session. Atop the list is education – an issue that lawmakers of both parties have successfully avoided dealing with head-on for years, if not decades.

But just because they have once again painted themselves into a corner on education-related issues, that should not serve as an excuse by lawmakers to put off dealing with another thorny issue, an issue that — like education – they have so short-sightedly put off dealing with year after year. That issue is our transportation infrastructure and how to fund it adequately.

For far too long, legislators and governors have treated the state’s Highway Fund like a grab bag at a children’s birthday party. They have gobbled up millions over the years to essentially cover up their failings at fiscal discipline and inability to stem the gluttony for power of one former commissioner.

The first step for lawmakers will be difficult, and perhaps expensive, but they must own up to the mistakes of the past and work to reclaim that money for our roads and bridges.

Unfortunately, that step will not be enough to meet our pressing transportation infrastructure needs. Whether an increase in the gas tax – Rep. Fred King of Colebrook is proposing a 6-cent increase that could raise tens of millions of much-needed dollars – or another way of raising funds, the situation is serious and must be addressed as soon as possible — not only for the public safety but the economic future of New Hampshire.