In September, two lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, NJ were suddenly closed, effectively fouling up traffic so much that the town became a "parking lot" where "half-hour bridge commutes stretched into four hours," screwing over buses as well as emergency vehicles. And who sanctioned this mess? Oh, just a childhood friend of NJ Governor Chris Christie.
Some say that the closures were payback from Christie because Fort Lee mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, refused to endorse him for re-election. The conspiracy is as follows: Christie, who was looking for bipartisan support, had his pal, ex-blogger and "patronage hire" to the Port Authority, David Wildstein, demand the shutdown. (The Port Authority is a NY-NJ agency, where governors of both state appoint officials to positions.) The traffic gridlock lasted from Monday, September 9 (the first day of school) until Thursday, September 12, when Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye, appointed by NY Governor Cuomo, called it off. Oh, and Foye only found out about the land closures because a reporter called him about it.
While the Port Authority claimed it was conducting a traffic study, the Wall Street Journal reported that Foye was pissed off about the closure, saying "the abrupt shift in traffic patterns caused a threat to public safety and should have been advertised to the public ahead of time." According to the WSJ, Foye's internal email also "listed the divisions within the authority that weren't consulted before the traffic pattern was changed, including the police department, and the Traffic and Engineering division."
Christie's campaign has said that the idea of retribution was "crazy," but at any rate, Wildstein resigned last Friday. Still, NJ lawmakers held a hearing about the incident yesterday, and the Democrats were out for blood. Maybe because there was some damning evidence that a traffic study would be a problem—from the Record:
Internal documents obtained by The Record show that planning for the study began a week-and-a-half before the Sept. 9 lane shift was ordered by Wildstein. They also show that Port Authority traffic engineers predicted that narrowing Fort Lee’s dedicated access lanes from three to one would result in 600-vehicle backups on local streets that would not clear until noon each weekday. Wildstein ordered the study anyway, agency officials testified Monday, saying he wanted to see if it would speed up non-local traffic approaching the bridge on Interstate 95.
The Port Authority officials, compelled to testify under oath on Monday, alternately described Wildstein’s order as “unprecedented,” “odd,” and “unacceptable.” And an independent traffic engineer told lawmakers that the lane shift was not even necessary; the study could have been performed using computer models, without causing reported delays of up to four hours.
The Port Authority's director of tunnels, Cedrick Fulton, was told by Wildstein about the lane closure the Friday before; Fulton noted how lane closures of that scale are planned years in advance, "My exact words were ‘This will not end well.'" Fulton also said that Wildstein indicated he'd tell Foye, but never did.
Foye also testified, "This was an operation directed by David Wildstein," and described the mess as "frankly a low point in Port Authority history." Christie himself has joked about the lane closures, claiming he was "worked the cones."
NJ Democratic Assemblyman John Wisniewski is not amused by Christie's remarks, "This is a man who wants to accede to higher office, and he plays shenanigans with the world's busiest bridge? It calls into question his fitness to be governor of New Jersey, let alone higher office."