Sarah Gonzalez, Reporter, WNYC/NJPR
Sarah Gonzalez is the northern New Jersey enterprise reporter for WNYC and NJPR.
New Jersey lawmakers are asking the board members of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to explain lane closures on the George Washington Bridge the week of September 9.
The closures caused huge traffic jams and came as a surprise to government officials, who are usually notified of future road closures, along with local police, according to Gordon Johnson, a state Assemblyman representing parts of Bergen County.
“Normal protocol when there is going to be construction or changes in traffic patterns, they notify the police and also the elected officials in those surrounding towns,” he said.
“That’s the normal protocol as I understand it as a former sheriff of Bergen County.”
That didn’t happen ahead of the five-day lane closures on the George Washington Bridge.
Commuters were never informed, and were left stuck in traffic for hours.
The city of Fort Lee, NJ – where the bridge is located – was a parking lot. And the mayor and his police officers were not warned.
According to a letter obtained by the Star Ledger, the Port Authority said lanes were closed because a "traffic safety study" was being conducted.
But two top Port Authority officials, Patrick Foye and Bill Baroni, backed away from that statement after a board meeting in Jersey City Wednesday.
They were asked who was conducting the traffic study and if they knew why the lanes were closed. They were also asked if they could confirm whether or not there even was a traffic study and if Gov. Chris Christie’s top appointee to the Port Authority, David Wildstein, made the decision to close the lanes.
Foye responded to every question like this:
“The matter is under review. When we have something to announce we will.”
Baroni responded by saying, “I’m going to defer to Pat’s statement from a second ago.”
According to the Star Ledger, the mayor of Fort Lee, Mark Sokolich, sent a letter to the Port Authority during the lane closures saying this:
“Without the benefit of a response from the Port Authority, we are reaching the conclusion that there are punitive overtones associated with this initiative… “What other conclusions could we possibly reach?”
Many have suggested the closures were punishment because the mayor did not support Gov. Christie’s re-election.
State Senator Loretta Weinberg, who is also asking for more transparency from the bi-state agency, said residents are suspicious because they aren’t getting any other answers from the Port Authority.
"Until they give us straight answers there will be a lot more conjecture about it," Weinberg said.