BY JUDY POKRAS
SPECIAL TO NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM
Media outlets are asking if Gov. Chris Christie arranged to have two of the George Washington Bridge's three tollbooth lanes coming from Fort Lee shut down in September (without warning residents) as a rebuke to the town's mayor, Democrat Mark Sokolich, who did not agree to endorse Christie's re-election bid.
As Arturo Garcia writes for The Raw Story, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow was one of those who raised the question on her Monday show:
‘You could still get on the bridge,’ she explained. ‘But a trip that took 30 minutes now lasted four hours. Happy first day of school, everybody. The backup was so bad it gridlocked not just near the bridge but basically the whole town.’
‘It sounds crazy, right?’ Maddow asked. ‘It sounds mice-out-of-planes crazy. Somebody closes down a couple of lanes on the onramp to the busiest bridge in America because they’re out to get your town? It sounds crazy, right?’
In an editorial on The New York Times' editorial page editor's blog Taking Note, Eleanor Randolph writes that Sokolich suspected there might be a connection between his failure to support Christie and the town's "sudden traffic nightmare." Christie appoints key members of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's board, which controls the routes to the George Washington Bridge, Randolph writes.
On Monday, witnesses testified at a hearing in Trenton that a close friend of Christie's who works for the Port of Authority ordered the lanes closed, Randolph writes. Bridge workers were told it was part of a traffic study and that they should not talk about it, Randolph writes. Five days later, Patrick Foye, the Port of Authority's executive director (an appointee of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat), learned about what had been dubbed a "traffic study" and was "reportedly outraged, since there was no such thing, and he ordered the lanes re-opened," Randolph writes.
Foye told New Jersey legislators on Monday that the lane closures had been ordered by David Wildstein, who is a high school friend of Christie's and a longtime political supporter, Randolph writes. Last Friday, Wildstein suddenly announced his resignation from the Port Authority. Randolph was unable to reach Wildstein, who she writes has not yet testified in Trenton before Assemblyman John Wisniewski, chairman of the transportation committee that is investigating the Fort Lee matter.
On Friday, Christie's spokesman praised Wildstein's work, reports Shawn Boburg for the Record’s NorthJersey.com, noting that Wildstein is set to stay in his $150,000 job until the end of the year. The Record obtained documents showing that planning for the study started a week and a half before Wildstein ordered the Sept. 9 lane shift, Boburg writes. Those documents show that Port Authority traffic engineers predicted that closing two of the three lanes would create 600-vehicle backups on local streets that would not clear until noon on weekdays, Boburg writes.
Wildstein ordered the study anyway, saying it was a test to see if the lane closures would speed up non-local traffic approaching the bridge on I-95, Boburg writes. However, an independent traffic engineer told lawmakers on Monday that the lane shift was not necessary, as the study could have been done using computer models.
Democrats on Monday called for the resignation of Bill Baroni, who is Wildstein's boss and the top N.J. executive at the two-state agency, Boburg writes, adding that Baroni has said he knew about the lane changes beforehand. On Monday, legislators said they wondered if Baroni was involved with the planning of the study or the decision to keep it secret, Boburg writes.
Randolph concludes her editorial on a skeptical note:
Mr. Christie, for his part, thinks the notion that there was a conspiracy is simply “crazy.” Strange, yes, but there is certainly more to learn before this whole Fort Lee matter is dismissed as mere coincidence. To determine if this was more than a traffic mishap, Mr. Foye should authorize a full investigation by the Port Authority’s Inspector General.
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Judy Pokras is the head blogger for the Law Offices of Daniel R. Rosen, a truck accident law firm in Colorado. Judy covers auto accident news and trends for the firm’s blog, and has written for The New York Times, the Daily Record, and many other publications. Connect with Judy on Google+.