Margate Bridge NJ raising cash tolls 50%, card tolls 25%
By Peter Samuel
Margate Bridge Company in Margate NJ raised its tolls today. Frequent users who buy a proximity card with credits for 100 car trips will now pay $1.00 a trip compared to 80c previously, and cash payers will fork over $1.50 compared to $1.00 before. An official statement (see in full at end) cites high costs of maintenance of the near 80 year old bridge as rationale for the toll increases.
David Goddard CEO at the bridge told us today: "We've got a viable operation here but to keep it that way we've got to adjust charges to generate the revenue to cover our costs, especially the costs to maintain the bridge so we can provide users with an assured service and safety."
The company has four fulltime maintenance workers for the 2-lane 1929 bridge - in fact four separate bridges totaling some 710m (2330ft) over four estuarial channels and 2300m (1.5 miles) of island road. The bridge closest to Absecon Island has a twin bascule draw span. In addition there are always two toll collectors.
Goddard contrasted his bridge with the Beesleys Point Bridge in Great Egg Harbor Bay just 11km (7 miles) away, which the owners couldn't keep up, and which had to be closed as unsafe in 2004. Cape May County has just bought Beesleys Point Bridge and it will be repaired, partly with tax monies, for reopening as the Cape May Bridge Commission's sixth toll bridge.
"Ours is virtually a sister bridge (to Beesleys Point Bridge)" Goddard said. "The plans for the bascules are identical, the same set of drawings, they came from the same engineering company. But they weren't able to maintain theirs, whereas we have invested heavily and worked hard at maintenance."
In the last ten years they've completely replaced the concrete decks of the bridges and engaged in repairs of piers and piercaps. Steel work is being rehabbed by removing rust and repainting. Mechanical and electrical equipment is being restored and replaced.
"We've done a lot already to keep this 80 year old structure in decent shape but now we're doing more than ever," said Goddard.
He declined to give dollar numbers.
AADT 11k to 12k
The private company which owns the bridge doesn't issue public financial accounts.
Goddard told us there are 600 to 800 bridge lifts a year or an average of about two a day. In the peak summer months lifts average about four a day.
The bridge CEO wouldn't give us vehicle numbers or toll transactions, but it the best available estimate is an average in the region of 11k to 12k daily with considerable seasonal variation - 14k or so during the summer and 8k or so in the winter.
Officials in Atlantic County gave us publicly available traffic counts. An August 2003 count of 14,731 discounted for seasonal effects converts to an AADT of 11,785. NJDOT did a traffic count on Margate Bridge Company property on one of the islands on the Margate Causeway in 2005 and estimated ADT of 11,804.
An Atlantic County official said he'd estimated the Margate Bridge annual toll revenue with the new toll rates in place should be somewhere between $3.45m and $6.02m. We estimate 4m transactions and an average toll of $1.30 for annual toll revenue of $5.2m.
No direct government regulation of tolls
Like most private toll bridges of the period Margate Bridge is subject to no government regulation of tolls, but it does face competition. 5km (3 miles) northeast of Margate is US40/322 Black Horse Pike with tax-supported bridges over the estuarial channels, and just beyond that the Atlantic City Expressway's final stretch. From Exit 36 on the Garden State Parkway there is approximately equal access to the US40/322 bridges and the Margate Bridge. Time savings to Margate by the toll bridge look to be 6 to 10 minutes vs US40/322.
To the southwest of Margate are a pair of Longport-Somers Point bridges (NJ152) untolled, built with tax money. They are fancy modern bridges but poorly connected to arterial routes on the mainland side and represent another somewhat longer route to Margate.
BACKGROUND: Margate Bridge is about 3km (nearly 2 miles) of trestle bridge and causeway built as a private toll operation in the mid-1920s to link Margate City and south Absecon Island to the mainland. Absecon Island, 13km (8 miles) long is a classic barrier island on the ocean behind which are shallow estuarial bays and rivers. The island accommodates, proceeding northeast to southwest Atlantic City, Ventnor City, Margate City and Longport. Margate City is 7km (4.3 miles) southwest of Atlantic City.
The bridges by our measurement using gmap-pedometer.com on Google Maps aerial photographs are from southeast to northwest: 170m, 210m, 260m, 70m (560ft, 690ft, 850ft, 230ft) in length. That's a total of 710m (2330ft) of overwater bridging and 2.3km (1.5 miles) of roadway and approaches.
There is one travel lane in each direction.
There's a toll plaza with 2 toll lanes each direction located on the southeast end of the bridge just on Absecon Island. Two inner lanes are staffed 24/7/365 and with a minimum of two toll collectors for security against holdups. In the outer toll lanes motorists can pay via coin machine or increasingly with their prepaid proximity card called Quick Toll Card which is tapped on or waved near a reader by the driver hanging their arm out the window.
Statement in full
Press statement on the toll increase:
Contact: Rodger Gottlieb • 609.573.5815 • email@example.com
Margate Bridge Toll to Increase
New $1.50 single trip cash rate to go into effect January 5th.
Margate, NJ -- The Margate Bridge Company has announced a cash toll increase from $1 to $1.50 per trip, effective January 5th, 2009. The Quick Toll Card (QTC) rate and other cash fares will also increase. The 100-trip QTC, currently $80, will now cost $100, or $1 per trip. The 50-trip QTC, which has been $45, will now cost $60, or $1.20 per trip.
"The high cost of maintaining the four bridges and more than two miles of roadway that comprise the Margate Bridge and Causeway has necessitated this rate increase," said David Goddard, President of Ole Hansen and Sons, parent company of the Margate Bridge company. "We continue to fight against the aging process on these bridges, which are now more than 75 years old. "We have spent and continue to spend millions of dollars in capital repair and maintenance costs to keep the bridges and roadway safe and well-conditioned for years to come. The only way to fund this work is through periodic toll adjustments.
"The Margate Bridge is an important access way for thousands of area residents and visitors," added Goddard. "It is our responsibility to ensure their safety, and to ensure that the bridges and roadway remain operational. We take that responsibility very seriously, as evidenced by the on-going investment in the upkeep of the entire span."
"Goddard also noted that the percentage discount offered by the 100-trip QTC will actually be higher than under the previous rates. The new rate structure will represent a 33 percent discount on the pre-paid 100-trip QTC, while the prior discount was 20 percent." End of press statement