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Congress May Be Asked to Join N.Y.-N.J. Bridge Probe

Officials want to know if the lane closures approaching the George Washington Bridge are "political payback" on the part of loyalists to Governor Chris Christie.

Mon December 30, 2013 - Northeast Edition
Angela Delli Santi

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) A New Jersey state lawmaker wants Congress to investigate the agency responsible for traffic jams caused by unannounced lane closings approaching the George Washington Bridge into New York City.

Democrats claim the gridlock was an act of retribution by loyalists of Gov. Chris Christie, which the governor has denied.

Sen. Loretta Weinberg of Bergen County told The Associated Press she would introduce a resolution that asks Congress to investigate the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The Democratic-led Senate could pass the resolution by the end of the year.

The authority’s inspector general and the Assembly Transportation Committee already are looking into the land diversions that brought Fort Lee to a standstill during the first week of school in September. But the lawmaker said Congress would bring a wider perspective to the probe since it could examine whether changes are needed in the federal legislation that created the bistate authority that operates bridges, tunnels, rail service and airports in the New York/New Jersey region.

“Congress should be looking at the law that created the Port Authority, the lack of transparency, whether the law that created the authority requires changes and that the structure of the authority needs to be amended,’’ said Weinberg, a Democrat.

The lane closings have created a distraction for Christie, who won re-election by 22 points in November and is seen as a strong potential contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. The governor’s top two appointees at the authority have resigned, and he held an hour-long news conference to try to manage the story.

Democrats contend the lane closings were political payback to Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat who declined to endorse Christie for re-election.

The closings were ordered by Christie’s No. 2 man at the agency, David Wildstein, a childhood friend of the governor’s and former political blogger. Christie’s top deputy, Bill Baroni, knew about them but the agency’s executive director, Patrick Foye, said he wasn’t informed. Baroni later received a letter from Sokolich claiming the closings were punitive, but the mayor has since backed away from that statement.

Christie said he has no reason to doubt the explanation of his two appointees, who contend the closings were for a traffic pattern study.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, backed Christie up, saying, “I’m sure it is as Gov. Christie says it is.’’

Cuomo said he knew of no intimidation by former Port Authority employees, but added any problem was settled by recent resignations. He said he and Christie handle issues on their respective sides of the bridge but work together when an issue involves the entire span or a larger concern.

Foye, who is Cuomo’s appointee, testified that he wasn’t aware of any traffic study, and two Port Authority directors said they feared for their jobs if they failed to carry out Wildstein’s order to divert traffic.

Weinberg said she is troubled about the work environment described by the three under oath, and is still concerned by the results of a Government Accountability Office audit in August showing the authority lacked transparency when it raised tolls by 50 percent on bridges and tunnels into New York after holding only one day of public hearings.

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