New Jersey Senate approves Port Authority reforms

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Reforms at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey are another step closer to reality.

The New Jersey Senate voted unanimously to advance a bill that is intended to improve transparency at the bi-state agency. S2181 awaits further consideration in the Assembly.

Sponsored by Sen. Robert Gordon, D-Bergen, and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Englewood, the bill would require the Port Authority to follow the same guidelines for other public authorities in New Jersey. Specifically, records of the Port Authority and meetings of the board and its committees would be required to be open to the public.

Annual audits would be mandatory for the agency, which runs bridges and tunnels that include the George Washington Bridge and the Lincoln and Holland tunnels; the Port of New York and New Jersey; and Newark, LaGuardia and Kennedy airports. An internal inspector general’s office would also be created.

“The time has come to fix the Port Authority,” Gordon said in prepared remarks. “It’s well past time that we bring this agency out of the dark ages to ensure a higher level of accountability and transparency at all levels.”

The push now underway follows 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 December 2014 and 2015.

The first of five tolls 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, lawmakers in both states have been working to improve operations at the Port Authority.

Calls for change heated up again following the unannounced closure of three lanes in Fort Lee in September 2013 that snarled traffic for days on the George Washington Bridge.

Democratic legislators allege the project was political retribution against the Fort Lee, N.J., mayor because he didn’t endorse Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for re-election last fall.

Port Authority officials say the closures were related to a traffic study. Three officials at the Port Authority later resigned. Investigations into the allegations about the lane closures continue.

Gordon said the changes sought in his legislation “will inject public confidence in an agency that severely lacks it.”

“These are important reforms that I believe would have prevented many of the past problems that occurred had they already been in place,” Gordon stated.

Lawmakers on both sides of the state line continue to work for changes to how business is done at the Port Authority.

In New York, identical legislation has moved to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk to enact the changes in the Empire State. To become effective, lawmakers in both states must endorse changes to the bi-state authority.

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