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Garden State Parkway to remove toll coin machines

Mike Alessia chuckled when he thought about the days before E-Z Pass and paying your way down the Garden State Parkway doubled as a skill sport.

“I remember having to throw the coins — even as kids, you would throw it from the back seat and see if you could get the coins in.” said the 55-year-old Bergen County resident, as he traveled with his wife, Linda, from Old Tappan to Wildwood on Thursday afternoon.

Soon the machines will just be a memory. All automatic coin machines will be removed from mainline barrier toll plazas on the Garden State Parkway this month, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority said.

The work is scheduled to begin on Sept. 24. The plazas that will be affected in Ocean, Atlantic and Cape May counties include: Barnegat at milepost 68.9 southbound; New Gretna at milepost 53.5 northbound; Great Egg at milepost 28.8 southbound; and Cape May at milepost 19.4 northbound.

The coin machines that are being removed will be converted to full-service toll lanes or those for “E-ZPass Only,” the NJTA said.

“We had to beep the horn on the last toll because it didn’t register,” said Rocco Incorvaia, 62, of Midland Park, Bergen County, “they don’t always work, but they had plenty of time to get the flaws out of it.”

The 37 coin machines at the 11 mainline barrier toll plazas will be removed, but the entrance and exit ramp coin machines will remain, according to the authority.

Chris Taylor, 61, of Clifton Heights, Pennsylvania, was driving with family members on the Parkway on Thursday afternoon.

“I have E-Z Pass in all my cars,” he said. “I only use the coins when I am driving someone else’s car.”

While he, too, made the switch to E-Z Pass a while ago, Taylor thinks changing the toll system will hurt out-of-town drivers and slow traffic approaching the plazas.

“If they don’t have E-Z Pass ... there are fewer operators, no coin drop, what are they going to do?” Taylor said.

The coin machines have been in place for more than 25 years, according to a NJTA spokesman.

However, in 2017, the coin machines at these plazas accounted for fewer than 5 percent of toll transactions.

The coin machines are “nearing the end of their useful lives,” and are becoming expensive and difficult to keep up, according the the NJTA. The NJTA said original manufacturer’s parts are becoming no longer available, and parts from third-party vendors are scarce.

The work will start with Pascack Valley and Cape May. Crews will then work on two plazas per week in the following order: Bergen and Great Egg in the second week; Essex and New Gretna; Union and Barnegat; Raritan and Toms River; and the Asbury Park toll plaza during the final week.

The parts from the coin machines that are being removed will be used for coins machines on the entrance and exit ramps, the NJTA said.

Florence hits Carolinas as NJ remembers Great Atlantic Hurricane of 1944

ATLANTIC CITY — The Great Atlantic Hurricane of 1944 hit the New Jersey Coast 74 years ago on Sept. 14, destroying most boardwalks — including Atlantic City’s — and leaving Atlantic and Cape May counties in ruins.

Most of the nine people who died in the storm in New Jersey drowned or were hit by debris on Long Beach Island, Atlantic City and Sea Isle City, according to weather historian David Ludlum’s “New Jersey Weather Book.”

The category 2 storm didn’t make landfall until Long Island, New York, said State Climatologist David Robinson, but it hugged the coast as it traveled north, close enough to push vast amounts of water into New Jersey.

“There was a major storm surge,” said Robinson, who is also a professor at Rutgers University. He called it New Jersey's most physically destructive tropical system of the 20th century.

Look back at the Hurricane of 1944

Joe Zetooney, 93, a longtime Margate resident who grew up in Atlantic City, was a 19-year-old jukebox mechanic when the storm hit.

He went to work that morning, he said.

“Like today, the humidity was heavy. It was a warm day,” he said recently.

By midday, rain started and the wind picked up.

Within an hour or two, “all hell broke loose,” Zetooney said. “That storm came and went in three hours.”

“I went up to Rhode Island (Avenue) and the Boardwalk to get a jukebox, and the whole front of the building was gone,” said Zetooney, who now lives in Ventnor. “Everything was washed to the back of the building, in one big pile. Windows were blowing out of stores. The barometric pressure must have been so low, they were blowing outward not in.”

Most of the music players his company had placed in coastal locations from Atlantic City to Cape May were ruined, he said.

“The (storm) impact was heightened because storm surge in southern New Jersey occurred very close to high tide,” said Rutgers Professor Anthony Broccoli, whose research focuses on understanding changes in climate. “Timing is everything.”

It produced some of the highest water levels ever recorded on the South Jersey coast. Water level at Atlantic City reached 8.84 feet above mean low water, Broccoli said.

As the day went on, heavy cornices came off an apartment house on Atlantic Avenue, Zetooney said. “They came crashing down on cars.”

He came out of a service appointment and saw ambulances going one way and firetrucks another.

When he got home at 5 p.m., at 113 S. Texas Ave., water was up to his waist in places, he said.

Records show the strongest wind gusts in Atlantic City were 91 mph, said Broccoli. They reached 105 to 115 mph out at sea.

That hurricane was the death of the Margate Boardwalk, which some residents now want to see rebuilt. The small remnant left on the north end was swept away in the 1962 nor’easter.

For Zetooney, early reports about Hurricane Florence were reminiscent of early storm reports he heard in 1944.

“We had radio then. Didn’t have television. Radio mentioned about the hurricane — they said it will hit the Carolinas,” he said.

But once it got near the Carolinas it took a northern turn and ripped up the coast to New York, then Rhode Island.

This time, the high-pressure systems that created a route in 1944, pushing the hurricane along the coast at 40 mph, are in different locations — and are keeping the current hurricane from turning north, Robinson said.

Zetooney had a long career as a television mechanic, eventually owning his own business. He still drives.

He now lives on the fifth floor of an apartment building with a great view of the bay.

“I sit here and watch storms come in over the water,” he said.

Press archives  

Damage from the storm to the Atlantic City Boardwalk was extensive.

Local officials not surprised by scathing CRDA audit

Given the checkered history of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority’s fiscal practices, the findings from a state audit failed to surprise local elected officials who each expressed hope that the agency’s future would head in a better direction under new leadership.

Atlantic City Mayor Frank Gilliam, whose elected position grants him an automatic seat on the CRDA board, said the audit’s findings show the authority has been “neglectful in how they spend money.”

“Naturally, being the mayor of Atlantic City and seeing all this money going in different directions and not really being able to benefit the municipality specifically and the neighborhoods in the community that need it most, was very eye-opening,” Gilliam said Thursday. “I just don’t see how those misuses of funds helped the city out at all.”

The 29-page performance audit, released Tuesday by the Office of State Auditor, detailed numerous instances of fiscal mismanagement in addition to operational and organizational deficiencies. The audit’s scope covered the period between Jan. 1, 2014 and Dec. 31, 2017, a timeline that included executed contracts with the Miss America Organization, Tanger Outlets The Walk and the Atlantic City Beach Concert Series, all of which came under fire in the report.

Board Chairman Robert E. Mulcahy responded to the audit’s findings on behalf of the CRDA by way of a letter dated Aug. 21. He indicated that the authority agreed with some of the audit’s findings while disagreeing with others.

“We welcome the OLS’s (Office of Legislative Services) examination and critique of our operations and financial status, and the Authority will continue to seek opportunities to improve our processes so that we may better serve our stakeholders,” Mulcahy wrote.

As of July 1, the CRDA has a new executive director, former Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty, and a new deputy executive director, Marshall Spevak. Nearly all of the local elected officials who spoke with The Press of Atlantic City about the CRDA audit expressed confidence in the new leadership.

Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, said the findings in the audit were upsetting, particularly considering CRDA’s documented history of mismanaging funds.

“When you deal with other people’s money and you’re supposed to spend this money in a way that spurs investment and help Atlantic City and the surrounding communities in Atlantic County, you’re hoping that the money is spent correctly,” he said. “Now that there’s new leadership, hopefully they start taking corrective action making sure dollars are spent wisely.”

State Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cumberland, Cape May, Atlantic, said it was too early to say whether the existing regulations governing CRDA were not adhered to or if there needs to be more stringent laws in place to ensure proper fiscal management.

But, Van Drew said now is the time to start having those conversations.

“I think it’s important that the CRDA take this very seriously and make corrective action,” Van Drew said. “There is the possibility for legislative oversight, but I hate that it would be necessary. I think what this really begs is more of a conversation with (CRDA leadership).”

Republican congressional candidate Seth Grossman, who is challenging Van Drew for the 2nd District seat in November, said “CRDA is the perfect example of how pay-to-play politics in New Jersey ruins everything it touches.”

“The best and quickest way to revive Atlantic City is to abolish CRDA, let elected officials run the city and apply the full casino contribution to property tax reduction,” said Grossman. The long-time critic of CRDA added, “For the past 30 years, CRDA rewarded friends of politicians all over New Jersey the way Bugsy Siegel took care of his gangster friends when he took a 1 percent skim from his Las Vegas casinos in the 1940s.”

Assemblyman John Armato, D-Atlantic, acknowledged that CRDA, which was created in 1984 to spur economic development in Atlantic City and the surrounding area through a portion of casino licensee taxes, has “a rough track record.”

“With new leadership, I would hope we can continue to course correct,” Armato said. “A true evaluation of programs worth investing in should be the first step in the right direction.”

Gilliam said he was “excited” and “enthusiastic” about the new leadership at CRDA. He said that recent conversations with Doherty left him hopeful that Atlantic City’s needs will be heard in the future.

City Council President Marty Small Sr. said the governing body and the new leadership at CRDA have both committed to improving the relationship between the two entities for the betterment of Atlantic City. Small said the Council would continue to focus on Atlantic City with the hopes that CRDA would do its part to further its obligation to the city.

“The report is the report, the findings are the findings to ensure that CRDA takes the necessary steps to fix what’s in the report,” Small said. “I’m going to leave that to CRDA and continue to focus on making Atlantic City fiscally sound for the residents.”

'Threat becomes reality' as Florence pounds Carolinas

WILMINGTON, N.C. — The big slosh has begun, and the consequences could be disastrous.

Hurricane Florence’s leading edge battered the Carolina coast Thursday, bending trees and shooting frothy sea water over streets on the Outer Banks, as the hulking storm closed in with 100 mph winds for a drenching siege that could last all weekend. Tens of thousands were without power.

Winds and rain were arriving later in South Carolina, and a few people were still walking on the sand at Myrtle Beach while North Carolina was getting pounded.

Forecasters said conditions will only get more lethal as the storm smashes ashore early Friday near the North Carolina-South Carolina line and crawls slowly inland. Its surge could cover all but a sliver of the Carolina coast under as much as 11 feet of ocean water, and days of downpours could unload more than 3 feet of rain, touching off severe flooding.

Florence’s winds weakened as it drew closer to land, dropping from a peak of 140 mph earlier in the week, and the hurricane was downgraded from a terrifying Category 4 to a 2.

But North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper warned: “Don’t relax, don’t get complacent. Stay on guard. This is a powerful storm that can kill. Today the threat becomes a reality.”

More than 80,000 people were already without power as the storm approached, and more than 12,000 were in shelters. Another 400 people were in shelters in Virginia, where forecasts were less dire.

Forecasters said that given the storm’s size and sluggish track, it could cause epic damage akin to what the Houston area saw during Hurricane Harvey just more than a year ago, with floodwaters swamping homes and businesses and washing over industrial waste sites and hog-manure ponds.

“It truly is really about the whole size of this storm,” National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said. “The larger and the slower the storm is, the greater the threat and the impact — and we have that.”

The hurricane was seen as a major test for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was heavily criticized as sluggish and unprepared for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year.

As Florence drew near, President Donald Trump tweeted that FEMA and first responders are “supplied and ready.”

Schools and businesses closed as far south as Georgia, airlines canceled more than 1,500 flights, and coastal towns in the Carolinas were largely emptied out.

Around midday, Spanish moss blew sideways in the trees as the winds increased in Wilmington, and floating docks bounced atop swells at Morehead City. Some of the few people still left in Nags Head on the Outer Banks took photos of angry waves topped with white froth.

Wilmington resident Julie Terrell was plenty concerned after walking to breakfast past a row of shops fortified with boards, sandbags and hurricane shutters.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, I’m probably a 7” in terms of worry, she said. “Because it’s Mother Nature. You can’t predict.”

Forecasters’ European climate model is predicting 2 trillion to 11 trillion gallons of rain will fall on North Carolina over the next week, according to meteorologist Ryan Maue of That’s enough water to fill the Empire State Building nearly 40,000 times.

More than 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to evacuate over the past few days, and the homes of about 10 million were under watches or warnings for the hurricane or tropical storm conditions.

Duke Energy Co. said Florence could knock out electricity to three-quarters of its 4 million customers in the Carolinas, and outages could last for weeks. Workers are being brought in from the Midwest and Florida to help in the storm’s aftermath, it said.

A buoy off the North Carolina coast recorded waves nearly 30 feet (9 meters) high as Florence churned toward shore.

Scientists said it is too soon to say what role, if any, global warming played in the storm. But previous research has shown that the strongest hurricanes are getting wetter, more intense and intensifying faster because of human-caused climate change.

Florence’s weakening as it neared the coast created tension between some who left home and authorities who worried that the storm could still be deadly.

Frustrated after evacuating his beach home for a storm that was later downgraded, retired nurse Frederick Fisher grumbled in the lobby of a Wilmington hotel several miles inland.

“Against my better judgment, due to emotionalism, I evacuated,” said Fisher, 74. “I’ve got four cats inside the house. If I can’t get back in a week, after a while they might turn on each other or trash the place.”

Authorities pushed back against any suggestion the storm’s threat was exaggerated.

The police chief of a barrier island in Florence’s bulls’-eye said he was asking for next-of-kin contact information from the few residents who refused to leave.

“I’m not going to put our personnel in harm’s way, especially for people that we’ve already told to evacuate,” Wrightsville Beach Police Chief Dan House said.