Documents raise new questions in Christie bridge controversy
WASHINGTON (CNN) — As New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie continues to bat down questions about a controversy involving the country's busiest bridge, new documents indicate Port Authority officials have long known that Fort Lee, New Jersey, has struggled with traffic gridlock because of the George Washington Bridge.
Closing some of the access lanes to the bridge, which spans the Hudson River and connects New Jersey to Manhattan, would only exasperate the problem. But that's exactly what a Christie political appointee did in September, resulting in massive delays and gridlock on the first day of school.
The appointee, a Port Authority employee, has since resigned but said he ordered the closures for a traffic study. New Jersey's top Port Authority official, Bill Baroni, also resigned over the controversy, accepting responsibility for not following the right protocols in approving the study, Christie announced earlier this month.
Critics, however, have speculated the lanes were closed as political payback after Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich refused to endorse the Republican governor's re-election bid earlier this year. Christie acknowledged that mistakes were made but forcefully denied the lane closures were politically motivated.
A letter obtained by CNN shows that Sokolich reached out to Baroni in 2010 to express frustration about the bridge. The letter was first reported by The Record, a daily newspaper that covers the area, and published online by NorthJersey.com
"Fort Lee has always had to deal with the extraordinary traffic burdens caused by the George Washington Bridge ("GWB"); however, lately the traffic has reached unbearable status and without some assistance from the Port Authority, Fort Lee will be in a perpetual state of emergency," the mayor wrote.
Sokolich also wrote that Fort Lee had requested police help from the Port Authority to help control traffic, but received aid only on "limited occasion."
Other documents obtained by The Record show that the Port Authority - which manages bridges, tunnels and seaports between New Jersey and New York - had been providing financial assistance to Fort Lee for years to deal with heavy congestion caused by its proximity to the bridge.
The documents raise new questions as to why Port Authority officials would further jam up the arteries of Fort Lee by closing access lanes to the bridge, even if it were done for a study.
State lawmakers, as well as the Port Authority's inspector general, have been investigating the incident. U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat and chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, has also started a probe and asked the U.S. secretary of Transportation to look into the matter as well.
Christie continued to say there were no political motives behind the lane closures and reiterated last week he doesn't remember ever meeting the mayor of Fort Lee.
"That's why none of this makes any sense to me. I think in the end this will be shown to be speculation by folks who want to play political games," he said at a news conference.
Christie has been hounded about the controversy by local and national Democrats, who are targeting the Republican as he's thought to be preparing for a presidential run in 2016.
"I know you guys are obsessed with it, I'm not. I'm really not," Christie said. "It's just not that big a deal. Just because the press goes around and writes about it, both here and nationally, I know why that is and so do you. Let's not pretend that it's because of the gravity of the issue. It's because I am a national figure and anything like this will be written about a lot more."