By Samuel Nahmias
Chairman of the Nassau County Bridge Authority.
The Nassau County Bridge Authority (NCBA) is a separate functioning authority. Unlike other bridges, the NCBA does not receive taxpayer, property tax, county, and state funding. The NCBA funds 100% of its operations through toll revenue. The Atlantic Beach Bridge spans 1,173 feet (40%+ greater than its neighboring Long Beach Bridge).
When I was nominated for this role, I was honored to give back to the communities. Unfortunately, timing is not something we can all control.
My first initiative as chairman was to review the status of our finances, revenues, and capital needs. My second initiative was to work with our engineers at Hardesty & Hanover and our auditor to ensure that we have adequate capital to address our required infrastructure needs. My third initiative and quite an important one, was to address the public outcry on the failing toll plaza.
Over the past three years, the Authority has lost nearly $1M per year (excluding goodwill). One can assume that this was due to the COVID pandemic and loss of toll revenue. While the Authority was hoping for a return back to profitability, unfortunately this proved impossible at our current revenues.
Just like all American businesses, citizens, and public authorities, we are not immune to inflation. We have encountered inflation unlike anyone has seen in 40+ years. This has affected all aspects of the Authority’s finances. We are scheduled to lose over $2M in 2023 and headed towards a path of insolvency unless we address the issues.
In my learnings, I discovered that our prior toll increase took place roughly 17 years ago and the study at the time, indicated that it was only good for about five years. The prior board did as much as they could to extend this until now. However, no one could have predicted the pandemic and subsequent high inflation.
After a vigorous review, our auditor and board determined that a toll increase is required for the viability of the Bridge Authority. As a point of reference, bridges are rated 7 to 1, 7 being in excellent new condition and 1 being the opposite. The Atlantic Beach Bridge is rated a 5, which is incredible for a 70-year-old bridge. Make no mistake, this is because we were set up as a separate authority from the start, in order to maintain our own bridge.
The decision to raise tolls does not come lightly, especially at a time when our residents are hurting due to high inflation. That is why we made the decision to raise the residents at a much lower amount vs. non-residents and commercial vehicles. While going from $2 to $3 seems excessive, until EZ-Pass is implemented, it is still far below what $2 would be worth 17 years later with inflation.
The implementation of EZ-Pass was sound and logical considering the latter. The board could have simply spent similar amounts to upgrade the failing system and keep it as a cash toll. This seemed counterintuitive given the number of complaints ranging from pedestrians not having cash, commercial vehicles having to pull to the side, delivery drivers not knowing what to do, and of course the dangerous conditions it causes when vehicles must back out. This is on top of the heavy summer traffic build-up on the 878 that occurs due to only accepting cash.
Misinformation has been circulating that the decal system and its benefits are being completely eliminated. This could not be farther from the truth. We are upgrading how we treat decals. While we are phasing out the decal “stickers” by mid-2023, we are incorporating the decal benefits into the EZ-Pass system. Travelers will be able to enjoy all of the benefits of their prior decals with the current EZ-Pass Reader/Transponder. Travelers will be able to log in to their EZ-Pass account and add the Atlantic Beach Bridge to their annual unlimited use for $199 (residents) and $349 (non-residents).
As our commitment to the Atlantic Beach, Long Beach, and neighboring resident communities, presently we do not plan to raise tolls again until at least January 2028 and beyond. We are looking towards other revenue streams to help offset our costs and to date are pursuing the following:
1. Placing our liquid assets in higher interest bearing accounts at today’s rates. This will result in a financial benefit of roughly $200K annually.
2. Restricting overnight openings for the drawbridge to a schedule which will decrease costs by roughly $100K.
3. We have explored refinancing the bonds and are waiting for the right opportunity to save significantly.
4. Exploring the use of vacant land.
Lastly, with the EZ-Pass upgrade, the security arms will remain in place. We are planning to add better LED lighting to the bridge, security cameras, and have more of police presence at the Bridge Authority.
Rest assured that we are working for the benefit of the people.