Officials Call for Explanation of George Washington Bridge Lane Closures

By Senior Political Correspondent Desirée Taylor
NJ Today

Motorists have grown accustomed to delays along the George Washington Bridge. But not the kind of gridlock that occurred several weeks ago when several lanes leading to the span were closed with no warning. Published reports suggest they were closed to conduct a traffic study. But Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg wants an explanation from the Port Authority.

“So release the traffic study, who authorized it, what were you studying and what was the result?” Weinberg said.

The Port Authority communications office did not return our call seeking comment. But a Wall Street Journal report, which includes a link to this letter, shows Executive Director Patrick Foye is also demanding answers. It says, “I am appalled by the lack of process, failure to inform our customers and Fort Lee and most of all by the dangers created to the public interest…” It goes on to say, “I believe this hasty and ill-advised decision violates federal law and the laws of both states.”

“And why after the press called Director Foye’s office the traffic study was suddenly canceled,” said Weinberg.

Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich declined to comment on camera. But during in a phone interview, he told me he doesn’t know the reason for the lane closures. And he rejects what he describes as “conspiracy theories” that this was allegedly political payback targeting him because he’s a Democrat who has not officially endorsed Gov. Chris Christie.

“Even I had trouble believing that,” Weinberg said. “First, it doesn’t just punish Fort Lee residents. I’ll bet they even have Republicans who drive over the bridge and get stuck in traffic jams. So it’s not punishing the mayor of one community. That’s patently ridiculous.”

But Weinberg does believe this incident is another example of why she and other lawmakers have been calling for greater transparency at the bi-state agency which operates the George Washington Bridge and transit linking New York and New Jersey.

“We have been fighting for transparency there for years. May I remind everybody that we even passed a bill in both houses of the legislature. And the governor conditionally vetoed it in such a way it can’t become a law,” Weinberg said.

Meanwhile, motorists say they just want to be kept informed about future lane closures or other changes.

“If they notified, like, over the internet or something, then I could take a different route,” said Astoria, N.Y. resident Leo Kim.

“Nobody likes traffic, but especially when you have no idea what’s going on and how long it’s gonna last,” said Fort Lee resident Ella Pavlov.

Assemblyman John Wisniewski, chair of the transportation committee, has called for a hearing to look into the lane closures and record toll hikes imposed by the Port Authority in 2011.