On the first day of school in September, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) top aides at the Port Authority shut down local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, soon after the community’s mayor refused to endorse the governor’s re-election campaign. The Bergen Record reported this week that the Christie administration knew well in advance what was likely to happen to the community (via Amanda Terkel).
The mayor of Fort Lee, frustrated by increasing traffic leading to the George Washington Bridge, wrote to Governor Christie’s top appointee at the Port Authority in November 2010 to plead for help easing the gridlock.
But nearly three years later, that Port Authority official and another high-ranking Christie appointee quietly closed two local access lanes to the bridge without notifying the mayor or other borough officials, exacerbating the traffic problems. […]
The three-page letter by Mayor Mark Sokolich to former Port Authority Executive Director Bill Baroni, who recently resigned, is the clearest indication yet that Christie’s appointees at the agency were aware of the borough’s sensitivities to congestion before ordering the lane diversions that are at the center of the controversy. The letter indicates that Baroni met with Sokolich face to face in September 2010 to discuss the traffic issues and that he told Sokolich to contact him in the future “to address any concerns or grievances.” Sokolich has said he was ignored by the authority during the September lane closings.
The local paper obtained the 2010 letter through a public-records request.
“The mayor’s letter to Bill Baroni demonstrates that Baroni knew full well the traffic chaos that would result from the lane closures at the George Washington Bridge,” state Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D) said in a statement. “It adds to the growing evidence of poor management by the governor’s top appointees to the Port Authority, men who are among New Jersey’s highest paid public employees…. How the governor can continue to defend such behavior is beyond my comprehension.”
Looking at this story in the larger context, we see that Christie’s top aide at the Port Authority knew that Fort Lee was already struggling with heavy traffic congestion, which local officials considered dangerous in the event of emergencies. The Christie administration nevertheless imposed paralyzing gridlock on the community through lane closures that the governor’s aides kept secret – from local officials and the Port Authority’s own executive director – for unknown reasons.
Asked why the lanes were closed, Christie and his aides have pointed to an alleged “traffic study,” which wasn’t cleared in advance and doesn’t appear to exist. It would appear such a study would also be wholly unnecessary given the correspondence between Fort Lee and the Port Authority going back to 2010.