By Hilary Russ
Feb 19 The Port Authority of New York and New
Jersey apologized on Wednesday for a traffic jam in September
that snarled the busiest bridge in the United States as its
board opened a review into reforming the Port Authority.
Scott Rechler, the board's vice chairman, will lead a
five-member special oversight committee that, he said, will be
"forward-looking." It will not probe the events that led to the
gridlock because there were "plenty" of other investigations
already ongoing, he said.
The gridlock on the George Washington Bridge over four days
in September has embroiled the administration of New Jersey
Governor Chris Christie in controversy. A federal prosecutor is
investigating whether any laws were broken when a top aide to
Christie ordered seemingly politically motivated traffic jams.
The board is "deeply sorry for the inconvenience caused to
our travelers," said Chairman David Samson, who was nominated by
Christie and confirmed by the New Jersey Senate in 2011. Other
board members had raised the idea of apologizing earlier in the
The scandal has dampened Christie's position as a potential
top contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016
and renewed calls for reform at the massive agency, which has
long been seen as lacking transparency.
The oversight committee will examine the agency's
whistleblower rules, governance and structure. It could propose
changes to the management structure of the Port Authority, whose
executive director is appointed by the New York governor and
whose deputy executive director is appointed by the New Jersey
Rechler promised that the oversight committee would not just
release reports but "be a committee of action," as he said that
"everything is on the table."
One New Jersey lawmaker has questioned whether a group of
politically appointed commissioners -- all of whom are named by
either the New York or New Jersey governor -- was the best way
"We need a whole overhaul there," New Jersey Senate Majority
Leader Loretta Weinberg, a Democrat, told Reuters recently. She
co-heads a legislative investigation into whether politics were
at play in the bridge incident.
Even so, she said, "To have a commission to study a
committee of their own commissioners, who haven't done anything
as it was under their noses, I have no confidence in."
The Port Authority's management structure has increasingly
been blamed for creating a bifurcated agency, one with "two
independent lines of authority," as commissioner William Schuber
said on Wednesday, rather than one with a truly regional
economic development mission.
Samson said he "wholeheartedly" endorsed the mission of the
Samson's chairmanship has been called into question because
of involvement by his private law firm in development projects
that raised questions about possible conflicts of interest. His
name also surfaced in subpoenaed documents in the legislative
investigation of the bridge lane closures.
Board members would not answer questions about that subject
Critics and former officials also complain that the agency
has been used over the years as a way for governors to reward
allies with jobs, but that Christie has stuffed it with more
appointees than any other governor.
One of those loyalists, David Wildstein, ordered the lane
closures that led to the traffic mess. He resigned in December
as pressure over the controversy grew. The authority has since
eliminated his position as director of interstate projects, a
post that didn't exist before he arrived.
Asked on Wednesday what that job description was supposed to
have meant, Executive Director Patrick Foye said, "I understand
he was purely interested in politics."