At his press conference over Bridgegate, Chris Christie said, “I don’t know if this was a traffic study that morphed into a political vendetta or a political vendetta that morphed into a traffic study.”
Additionally, the traffic study was cited as the reason for the closure of the lanes on the bridge during the New Jersey State Assembly hearings. It turns out that there is no evidence of a legitimate traffic study being the cause for the lane closures, according to the Port Authority.
In the Port Authority statement released on Thursday, the agency told Senator Jay Rockefeller ( D-W.VA), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, that an appointee of Governor Christie’s did not seek prior approval for any traffic study.
The Port Authority wrote that it shared Rockefeller’s concerns and that the closure of the lanes on the bridge were “not in any way representative of the manner in which business is conducted at the Port Authority.” Furthermore, just as the Democratic Senator warned, the Port Authority expressed concern over the risk of sideswipe crashes, “The Chief Engineer raised traffic safety concerns related to the local traffic merge situation that would be created, including the risk of sideswipe crashes.”
Rockefeller also issued some bad news for the embattled Republican Governor today. After getting a response to his December 16th letter from the New Jersey and New York Port Authority regarding questions surrounding the unannounced closure of several lanes on the GWB, Rockefeller said pointedly, “The Port Authority’s response provides zero evidence that the purpose of these closures was to conduct a legitimate traffic study.”
Rockefeller said that while we don’t have all of the facts yet, the Port Authority clearly laid out how a lane closure should have been handled. “The letter explains the careful planning and communication that should happen before interstate bridge lanes are closed for a traffic study or any other non-emergency purpose. The Port Authority officials who ordered the September 9-13 George Washington Bridge lane closures did not follow their agency’s own procedures.”
Then Rockefeller went in for the kill shot to the Christie administration’s excuse for closing the lanes, “The Port Authority’s response provides zero evidence that the purpose of these closures was to conduct a legitimate traffic study.”
But worse yet, Rockerfeller pointed out that the Port Authority explained that the lane closures would increase the risk of sideswipe crashes, “I am also disturbed by the evidence showing that the Port Authority’s professional and engineering staff raised serious concerns about the lane closure plan. They explained that the closures would cause significant congestion and delays, and would increase the risk of sideswipe crashes. It is unconscionable that anyone would block commercial traffic and risk the safety of thousands on our interstate highway system in this way.”
So far there is no evidence that there was a legitimate traffic study that went through proper channels. Furthermore, it looks as if staff felt pressured to go along with the bridge closure even though they were aware of the potential problems. These new developments highlight the dangers in the path that Governor Chris Christie chose in dealing with this crisis, which was to claim that he knew nothing about it while blaming staff and a traffic study. The traffic study is down. Christie better hope his staff (and ex staff) hold up better under scrutiny than the traffic study story.