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New Jersey Panel Seeks Answers On George Washington Bridge Closures

Assembly Transportation Committee Hold Hearing In Trenton

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TRENTON, N.J. (CBSnewYork/AP) – New Jersey lawmakers have questions about a series of lane closures at the George Washington Bridge that caused traffic delays two months ago.

“Our goal is to get to the bottom of how and why it happened,” Assembly Transportation Committee chairman John Wisniewski told WCBS 880’s Jim Smith.

Shutting down the access lanes from Fort Lee onto the bridge caused hours-long delays for four straight days beginning Sept. 9 and infuriated local officials who said they hadn’t been notified in advance.

Bill Baroni, deputy executive director of the Port Authority, said two of three lanes for Fort Lee-based traffic were closed for a traffic study.

He said Fort Lee is the only town with lanes specifically designated for their use at rush-hour and said that’s not fair to commuters from the rest of Bergen County.

Wisniewski said Baroni is dancing around the issue.

The closures raised questions about whether they were politically motivated.

As CBS 2’s Andrea Grymes reported, some have accused Gov. Chris Christie’s administration of ordering the lane closures in retaliation after Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich did not support his re-election campaign.

“I think it’s retaliation for something because the answers I’m getting, that I heard today made no sense,” said Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Teaneck), who sits on the Transportation Committee.

“The speculation grows the longer the Port Authority doesn’t tell us what happened here,” state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) said, adding that if it was dirty politics “whoever did it should be terminated.”

CBS 2 asked Christie’s office to respond to the accusations and about who ordered the lane closures and why. A spokeperson would only say, “The governor of the state of New Jersey does not involve himself in traffic studies.”

Sokolich declined to comment.

Commuters interviewed by Grymes said they did not remember the September closures specifically, saying they’re just used to sitting in traffic at rush hour.

“It’s the absolute worst,” one man said.

“It’s always backed up in the rush hour,” a woman said.

The committee invited top officials with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to appear at the hearing, but Wisniewski said Executive Director Patrick Foye declined, citing a scheduling conflict.

“It certainly does not help end the speculation and the guessing about whether this was politically motivated,” Wisniewski said.

Foye claimed he didn’t know about the closures until reporters started asking questions, the Bergen Record had reported.

The Wall Street Journal last month published emails from Foye in which he called the closures “abusive” and possibly a violation of state and federal laws.

Foye also said failing to notify the public was hasty and ill-advised, WCBS 880’s Sean Adams reported last month.

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(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)