"This has never been about chaos, this is about an orderly protest," stated Council Chairman David McCray.
Merrimack residents were urged to pay the 50-cent tolls at the three Merrimack exits with pennies to protest the toll system that costs them more than the average New Hampshire resident. Studies have shown that drivers pay $3.5 million a year at exits 10,11 & 12, which is approximately 5 percent of the turnpike revenue. The residents there only make up 2 percent of the state's population though and other studies have shown that they pay an average of as much as 42 cents per mile traveled compared to an average of 3 cents per mile for other users.
"It's on the forefront of every Merrimack resident's mind when you have to put an entire line in your home budget or work budget for the Merrimack tolls," stated Rep Maureen Mooney.
In what seems to be New Hampshire tradition, the council asked that people drive safely and courteously, follow all the directions of state employees and police officers and pull their transponders from vehicles involved in the protest. They set up a penny exchange at the transfer station on Saturday and distributed about 800 rolls of pennies to drivers in the first three hours. They also planned to distribute pennies at Abbie Griffen Park grandstand beginning at 9 am.
About 80 Merrimack residents hit the road Monday, armed with rolls of pennies and heading for each of the three toll stations. There were some traffic problems among the honking horns and "Don't Tread On Me" flags flying from vehicles. The state police received calls of slow moving vehicles and pedestrians on the higheway ramps. The damage from the good-natured protest.......... two vehicles cited for traveling under the minimum 45 mph speed limit and several pedestrians near the off-ramps were warned not to enter the highway.
The protest organizers had hoped that this orderly protest would get the attention of Concord lawmakers. The town council had felt that there was no symapathy for them before and now, they just look and say it isn't fair. They also are prepared to consider a class-action suit against the state if this protest doesn't change any minds of their lawmakers.
If anything, consistantly and quietly paying the tolls with pennies will wake somebody up to the issue.. even if it starts with the employees who are stuck dealing with all those pennies.