Push continues for reforms at Port Authority of New York & New Jersey

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 12/27/2013

A push continues at the New Jersey statehouse to change how business is done at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

In the wake of lane closures that gridlocked traffic for four days in September on the George Washington Bridge, Assembly Democrats are pursuing legislation that is intended to improve transparency and accountability at the bi-state agency.

Assemblyman John Wisniewski, D-Middlesex, introduced a concurrent resolution calling on Congress to re-examine the organizational structure and operating procedures at the Port Authority.

Wisniewski said that steps need to be taken to “end the problems that contribute to the dysfunctional practices that have plagued the bi-state agency.”

Earlier this month Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen, announced plans to reintroduce a bill early next year that would make changes at the Port Authority.

Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a bill in 2012 that was brought up in response to the implementation of a multiphase toll increase for all vehicles on Port Authority bridges and tunnels. Since 2011, the rate for trucks has more than doubled with two more increases slated for 2014 and 2015.

The first of five toll hikes were approved two weeks after eight public hearings were scheduled on the same day.

The agency’s actions created a backlash. Citing a lack of public input in the decision to increase tolls, New Jersey lawmakers sent Christie a bill to improve operations at the Port Authority.

Citing reforms already underway at the bi-state agency, Christie vetoed the bill.

Calls for change at the Port Authority heated up again following the unannounced closure of three lanes in Fort Lee that snarled traffic for days on the George Washington Bridge.

Democratic legislators allege the project was political retribution against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich because he didn’t endorse the Republican governor for re-election this fall.

Port Authority officials say the closures were related to a traffic study. Two officials at the Port Authority have since resigned.

Huttle said that while the investigation into the allegations about the lane closures continue, lawmakers need to focus on the root of the problem. In prepared remarks, Huttle said it’s important to determine “how the lack of transparency at the Port Authority is affecting commuters and residents from New York and New Jersey.”

Wisniewski shares a similar sentiment on the lane closures.

“Until we have definitive answers as to why and how this occurred, (truckers and other drivers) will still be vulnerable to the whimsies of an agency shrouded in secrecy.”

The concurrent resolution, ACR217, sought by Wisniewski requires the approval of the state Legislature but doesn’t need the governor’s endorsement.

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