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Atlantic Beach Bridge is testing cashless tolls

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The days of rummaging through your car’s glove compartment for loose change while approaching the Atlantic Beach Bridge toll booth could be coming to an end in the near future. 

The Nassau County Bridge Authority is testing new license plate reader technology that allows motorists to cross without having to stop and pay cash. The technology has been in use since October for two of the bridge’s 10 toll lanes, according to Vincent Grasso, the bridge authority’s executive director.

“This is the 14th year with no toll increase and that has allowed us to implement technologies that will benefit the people of the Five Towns and Long Beach,” Grasso said. “For about a year, the board has been discussing what the toll plaza is going to look like in the future since it’s essentially the same that has been here since the 1950s. We’ve evaluated a number of different options including EZ Pass and other automated tolling features.”

Grasso added that NCBA’s discussions of cashless tolls were accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic. “Covid struck and we were faced with how we can facilitate transit over the bridge with less contact between customers and toll collectors,” he said. “We looked at having high fidelity cameras that take a picture of the license plate, send the data to the New York State DMV and they send us back the registration data to invoice the patron.”

The bridge connects the Nassau Expressway, also known as State Route 878, to Park Street in Atlantic Beach, and costs $2 to cross per trip, $15 for a 20-trip card for $15 or motorists can purchase an unlimited-trip decal, which costs Nassau County residents $130 and non-residents $175.

While Atlantic Beach Trustee Linda Baessler likes the idea of cashless tolls, she doesn’t want the bridge to be exclusively cashless. 

“The bridge authority is another set of eyes for us with cars coming over and they were phenomenal during Hurricane Sandy when people were trying to get over here to take a look at the damage,” Baessler said. “I like the idea that right now we have three ways to pay with the decal, cash and toll card. If they add the cashless option, I think that’s great.”

Far Rockaway resident Michael Lanz said that having cashless tolls at the bridge has been long overdue. “This can help speed up traffic at the bridge,” Lanz said. “The toll booth is especially bad in the summer with all the beach traffic in the morning and when the drawbridge opens, it makes a bad situation worse.”

Grasso said that the cashless lanes are still being studied by NCBA and no specific time line for the program's expansion has been given.

“We’re tweaking the system as we watch the numbers and once we get the accuracy of over 90 percent, that’s when we will implement phase two,” Grasso said. “We want to get the accuracy numbers to what we have now, which is 99.5 percent. We're trying to get as close to that as possible.”