New Jersey lawmaker renews Port Authority reform effort

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Thursday, December 19, 2013

In the wake of lane closures that gridlocked traffic for four days in September on the George Washington Bridge, a New Jersey state lawmaker plans to renew a push at the statehouse to change how business is done at the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey.

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 transparency and accountability at the Port Authority.

Citing reforms already underway at the bi-state agency, Christie vetoed the bill. Instead, he urged lawmakers to extend the regulations to all multi-jurisdictional authorities.

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.”

“Tolls just went up again at the beginning of this month, which not only affects commuters but everyone when higher truck tolls are passed onto the consumer,” Huttle said.

Huttle can introduce her bill once the new regular session begins on Jan. 14.

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