The NJ Assembly Transportation Committee requested that several top execs of the Port Authority come before it, and answer their questions about the sudden lane closures on the GWB, and 5-day dangerous traffic snarl that caused. But in the end, only one showed up. Port Authority sent its Jersey politician, Bill Baroni – Christie appointee, Deputy ED, and the highest ranking Jersey bureaucrat in the joint.
It did not go well. Chair John Wisniewski complimented Baroni on his ability to dance past direct questions, and called him smug. Linda Stender got into a shouting match with him. And Senator Loretta Weinberg, who represents Fort Lee, the town that figures into both the massive traffic jam and allegedly its reason, says the explanation amounted to “the dog ate my homework.”
In September, local NJ lanes of the George Washington Bridge were abruptly closed, without informing local and PA police or other first responders, PA ED Patrick Foye, commuters, or Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich. Foye has said the action likely broke state and federal law and might have cost lives. The 5-day traffic snarl may have been political payback against Mayor Sokolich, a Democrat who refused to endorse Chris Christie.
Baroni, who came with props, but not copies of the traffic study he says was the reason for the closures, blames miscommunication. And officials are ready to call him on that. Weinberg has drafted a FOIA request for documentation for the “so-called traffic study,” including the authorization and role of PA officials in the chain of command. And she warns the authority can’t “lawyer up” to refuse to comply. She is particularly unimpressed with Baroni’s claim of lack of communication. Complete failure to notify other PA officials, the affected towns, and the public is “an understatement, she says, “that falls far short of credibility.” Weinberg attended a Port Authority Commission meeting a few days ago; officials initially tried to keep her out of the room.
One of those who failed to show up today is David Wildstein, The Record has called “Chris Christie’s eyes and ears” inside the PA. Wildstein was the driving force behind PolitickerNJ, and the identity of its anonymous columnist “Wally Edge.” He went to high school with Christie.
Predictably, the GOP went on defense. Deputy Assembly GOP leader John Amodeo, who is on the committee, called Baroni’s testimony “candid and properly focused”. Wisniewski said Foye was not available to come today, so he’s asked him for some available dates to come testify, and to bring Wildstein.