From the period of the 1870s when the railroad was first introduced to the area, Lawrence changed from a small farming and fishing community to an elegant summer colony with Hicks or Lawrence Beach at the south end, its exclusive bathing area.
About one-hundred-fifty yards south of Hicks Beach, a shifting sandbar separated the Atlantic Ocean from Lawrence—and depending upon the year, weather and ocean currents, the bar often stretched to Far Rockaway. That part of the sandbar directly south of the boundaries of the Village was considered the Village’s land.
On the bar, the Lawrence Beach Club erected cabanas on pilings. From time to time, a heavy storm would form a new inlet, and wash away the bathhouses. A small ferry provided transportation to the beach for members.
The high value of beach property gave some real estate developers the idea of stabilizing and raising the level of the sandbar and connecting it with the west tip of Long Beach, a distance of about 1,300 yards. By dredging the bottom of Rockaway Bay, enough fill was produced to form present day Atlantic Beach and at the same time a new navigable waterway, still called East Rockaway Inlet or Reynolds's Channel, was formed off the west end of extended Long Beach. Thus in making Atlantic Beach, Hicks Beach was closed off from the direct waves of the Atlantic Ocean when the old “Little Inlet” was filled in.
When the new island was joined to Long Beach, it was quite evident that a bridge to Far Rockaway was necessary. In 1927 a three-lane toll bridge was constructed by the Atlantic Beach Corporation (25 cent toll each way). The bridge was a financial success, but inadequate for its traffic. Its low clearance necessitated frequent openings for boats passing under it, which tied up the heavily used roadway. In 1945, during the administration of Nassau County Executive J. Russell Sprague, and the heyday of Robert Moses’ activities on Long Island, the bridge was taken over by the Nassau County Bridge Authority.
In 1952 the original bridge was supplanted by a high six-lane span situated about 200 yards to the west. (The single one-way toll remained at 25 cents). On this page is an aerial photo of the old bridge during construction of the new one. The old bridge was taken down although its abutments still remain.
While the bridge handles present day traffic with speed and dispatch, to the people of Lawrence it is not an unmixed blessing.
Prior to the erection of the bridge, Lawrence was off the beaten path.
As reported in the New York Times of July 19, 1928, despite the objections of the City of New York, a boundary change at Far Rockaway was enacted by the New York Legislature which pushed the Lawrence border west between 100 to 400 feet on a line about 5,000 feet in the direction of the bridge. Previously, all traffic to the Atlantic Beach Bridge had to go through the narrow roundabout streets of Far Rockaway. According to the argument of Edward S. Bentley, attorney for Lawrence”…it will not be necessary for motorists from the north and east to pass through the City of New York and encounter traffic congestion…and will constitute the westerly element of a united parkway system bringing the Atlantic beaches within reach of the public at large.”
With the new change, a
roadway was constructed from Broadway to the bridge area and Doughty Boulevard
(formerly McNeil Ave.) came into being.
With the coming of the bridge, the traffic through Lawrence via Rockaway Turnpike, Meadow Lane and Central Avenue, made a thoroughfare out of quiet residential streets, which weren’t meant to accommodate the endless stream of automobiles passing through during the summer months. After 50 years, the people of Lawrence take a keen but skeptical interest in the long-delayed Nassau Expressway, a roadway which will eliminate beach traffic from their quiet Village.
In 1950 the new bridge was construction was started
THE ORIGINAL ATLANTIC BEACH BRIDGE: The original Atlantic Beach Bridge, which opened to traffic in July 1927, was operated by a private group. The 1,000-foot-long bridge had a vertical clearance of only 13 feet. Because of this low clearance, operators had to lift the 120-foot draw span as many as 100 times a day. The 27-foot-wide, three-lane bridge roadway had a capacity of 3,000 cars per hour, less than half the capacity of the present span. It also had a five-foot-wide walkway for pedestrians and cyclists.
THE NEW ATLANTIC
BEACH BRIDGE: On October 14, 1950, Governor
Thomas E. Dewey drove the first pile for the new Atlantic Beach Bridge. To
accommodate the new six-lane span, Nassau County and New York City spent $2.5
million for approach road rights-of-way. The six-lane, limited-access Nassau
Expressway proposed by Robert Moses, and an improved Seagirt Boulevard were to
feed into the new bridge from the north. (Continuing south and east, Moses later
proposed an extension of the Nassau Expressway to Point Lookout.)
The new 1,173-foot-long drawbridge was constructed west of the existing span. To help alleviate traffic bottlenecks, the 153-foot-long bascule draw span was built with a vertical clearance of 33 feet, requiring fewer openings. The six-lane bridge was constructed with a 68-foot-wide roadway, and six-foot-wide walkway for pedestrians and cyclists. The entire structure was built on concrete piles, with a reinforced concrete roadway laid on a steel beam superstructure. On average, the bridge opens 23 times daily to allow for barge and shipping access to Reynolds Channel. The new Atlantic Beach Bridge opened to traffic on May 10, 1952, at a cost of $9.5 million. Soon after the new span opened, the old bridge was demolished.
Ralph Herman, frequent contributor to nycroads.com and misc.transport.road, relates the following experiences on the bridge:
When I was a kid, the Atlantic Beach Bridge on Long Island had a five-cent toll for bicycles and pedestrians; cars at that time were charged 25 cents. It had a turnstile, but you could remove a metal chain so your bicycle could pass through as you paid your five cents in the turnstile. I used it daily to ride my bike to my summer job at a beach club. The pedestrian and bicycle tolls were removed when the vehicular toll was raised, after the original bonds were retired.
The Atlantic Beach Bridge connects the Nassau Expressway (NY 878), the main thoroughfare of the Five Towns area of Nassau County, with Atlantic Beach. The double-leaf bascule drawbridge crosses the Reynolds Channel separating the Long Island mainland and the Long Beach peninsula. According to the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), the Atlantic Beach Bridge carries approximately 20,000 vehicles per day (AADT).
EFFORTS: Construction began in early 1998 on
a $19 million project to bring the Atlantic Beach Bridge up to Federal
standards. According to NYSDOT officials, the project includes reconstruction of
the approach roadways, and replacement of the existing concrete bridge deck,
rails, walkway and structural steel supports. Two of the bridge's six lanes are
closed during the reconstruction project, which was completed in November 2000.
The reconstructed multi-use path is included in the Long Beach Bicycle Route, a proposed 10-mile route running from Atlantic Beach east to Point Lookout. The bike route would also connect to the Rockaways to the west, and to Jones Beach to the east.
THE BRIDGE AUTHORITY
CONTROVERSY: Since the founding of the Nassau
County Bridge Authority, the commission charged with construction and toll
collection on the Atlantic Beach Bridge, there has been a long history of
patronage. Peter ("Uncle Pete") DeSibio, the former chairman and Inwood
executive leader who died in 1993, was known to hand out jobs to his friends,
relatives and political cronies. Even when the construction bonds were paid off
in 1975 (when the authority was to have been dissolved), the authority lived on
due to DeSibio's influence. Today, most of the $3.5 million annual budget for
the Nassau County Bridge Authority is spent on its 92 full-time and part-time
staff, much of it on toll collection.
Despite a thick stack of decade-old reports from Nassau County District Attorney Denis Dillon calling for an end to the Nassau County Bridge Authority, the agency had gone untouched. In 1999, H. Carl McCall, the New York State comptroller, performed the first audit of the authority since the mid-1980's.
McCall's report, which summarized that the Nassau County Bridge Authority operated "in an inefficient and inequitable manner," made the following findings:
The report, which covered the 1997 calendar year,
found that the authority failed to seek competitive bids for engineering work
and other service, improperly reimbursed commissioners for travel expenses,
and made excessively high payouts to managers who had retired.
In 1997, 71 percent of the authority's budget was
spent on personnel, while only 12 percent was spent on bridge maintenance.
The precarious financial state of the authority
necessitated another toll hike to meet its legal obligations to pay
construction bonds. Losses at the authority deepened from $32,995 in 1994 to
$472,380 in 1996.
Motorists who paid cash wound up paying a
disproportionately greater share of total toll revenues than did non-cash
commuters crossing the Atlantic Beach Bridge. The 32 percent of motorists who
paid the $1.25 cash toll contributed to 62 percent of the authority's revenue.
In contrast, commuters (mostly local residents) who paid the $75 unlimited
annual fee made up 68 percent of crossings, but only 38 percent of total
If the Nassau County Bridge Authority were
dissolved, the Atlantic Beach Bridge would lose its sole financial support from
tolls, since it receives no state or Federal funds. Some Nassau County officials
are considering taking over jurisdiction of the bridge from the authority. The
county operates the Long Beach Bridge and Bayville Bridge, two other drawbridges
that charge no tolls. However, some residents of Atlantic Beach would like the
tolls to stay, citing that they serve to deter crime and reduce traffic in
WHY NO EZ-PASS? Despite heavy traffic volume on the bridge, the Nassau County Bridge Authority stated that it was not economically feasible to install the EZ-Pass electronic toll collection system. Instead, consultants to the authority have proposed installing an automated toll system on two lanes of the bridge that would handle annual bar code stickers. (However, the bar code system would work only on the Atlantic Beach Bridge.) It would cost approximately $36,000 to install the system for two toll lanes.