December 27, 2013 3:00 am -

The controversy over a traffic mess that New Jersey Governor Christ Christie claimed was “not that big a deal” is mushrooming into a full-fledged scandal:

New documents reveal that a high-ranking official in the administration of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) knew that Fort Lee, N.J., had issues with traffic congestion around the George Washington Bridge, long before he authorized a seemingly unnecessary study that closed down lanes to the bridge and made traffic even worse.

Fort Lee is an essential access point to New York City, serving as the gateway to the George Washington Bridge, which is the busiest bridge in the United States. In November 2010, Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich (D) wrote to Bill Baroni, deputy director of the Port Authority of New York and Jersey, and complained of traffic problems in the borough. The letter was obtained by The Record in a public records request.

“On approximately 20 occasions in the last forty days, our Borough has been completely gridlocked,” wrote Sokolich to Baroni, who was Christie’s top official at the Port Authority. “Traveling from the south to the north end of our Borough takes upwards of one hour. Our safety vehicles are unable to traverse our own thoroughfares to attend to emergencies which place our residents in harms way.”

Despite these concerns, on Sept. 9, 2013, Sokolich woke up to find that two of the three local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge had been closed, causing dangerous traffic jams in the borough on the first day of school. Neither he nor Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye — who was appointed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) — were given any advance warning.

The closures were ordered by David Wildstein, then the director of interstate capital projects and an ally of Christie’s. They came just weeks after Sokolich refused to endorse Christie’s reelection bid. On Sept. 12, Sokolich said he believed the closures were “punitive,” although he later backed off that accusation.

Baroni has stated that the closures were part of a traffic study, implying that Fort Lee may not need three access lanes. …0

Wildstein and Baroni have since resigned and hired attorneys to represent them.

D.B. Hirsch
D.B. Hirsch is a political activist, news junkie, and retired ad copy writer and spin doctor. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.