GWB Lane Closure Controversy Continues [AUDIO]
A New Jersey Assembly Transportation Committee hearing did not determine if unannounced lane closures near the George Washington Bridge were payback for Fort Lee‘s mayor failing to endorse Gov. Chris Christie, but it did raise new questions for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
The authority’s deputy executive director, Bill Baroni, testified two weeks ago that the closures were needed for a traffic study. But on Monday, executive director Patrick Foye was asked if he supported that theory.
“I don’t,” said Foye. “I’m not aware of any traffic study. I don’t know why it (closing lanes) was done.”
Foye, who had been subpoenaed, testified under oath that he was not told about the closures, but reopened the lanes when he heard about resulting gridlock. Baroni was not under oath when he gave his statement.
Port Authority general manager Robert Durando and Bridges, Tunnels and Terminals department director Cedrick Fulton backed up Foye’s testimony. Both men told the panel they were directed by David Wildstein, the agency’s number-two man in New Jersey, not to inform Foye of the plan.
Foye, Durando and Fulton all blamed him for the lane closures, calling it a “Wildstein operation.”
Wildstein tendered his resignation last Friday, but is staying in his $150,000-per-year job through the end of the year.
After Foye learned of the lane closures, he ordered a review of Wildstein’s performance. Assembly Transportation Committee chairman John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville) asked if anything would have gone differently had Wildstein worked on the New York side, and not the New Jersey side, of the Port Authority.
“Would you have called him into your office and said, ‘Why’d you do this?’” asked Wisniewski.
“Yes,” said Foye, “and shortly thereafter, fired him.”
Wisniewski said the fact that Foye did not know about the lane closures or the traffic study is troubling.
“Chairman, it’s troubling to me as well,” said Foye.
Before Foye was called to testify, Durando and Fulton told the committee that the situation surrounding the closures was “odd.” Fulton said he was advised just three days prior, and that it seemed wrong to him.
“I’ve never participated in a process like that before,” said Fulton.
Durando said he’s never been ordered to conduct unannounced lane closures in his 35-year career.
If Wisniewski had his way, he said there would be a house-cleaning on the New Jersey side of the Port Authority.
“Mr. Baroni must go,” said Wisniewski. “No one can have any confidence in his abilities. Mr. Wildstein must also go, and Mr. Foye must do better.”
Gov. Christie appointed both Baroni and Wildstein to their posts. The governor has consistently denied that the lane closures were political retribution.