TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Two Port Authority executives appointed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie orchestrated a toll-hike plan in 2011 that was later scaled back to bolster the images of New Jersey’s and New York’s governors, according to published reports.
As WCBS 880’s Monica Miller reported, the toll hikes on Hudson River bridges and tunnels proposed in 2011 caused outrage by residents and some politicians. AAA New York’s Robert Sinclair joined a loud chorus of opponents.
“The process the Port Authority used to implement the toll hikes was rushed and lacked transparency with the authority holding all the public hearings on one day,” Sinclair said at the time.
The Bergen County Record and The Newark Star-Ledger reported Sunday the plan was hatched to improve the images of Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo when they eventually scaled them back. For example, instead of a $6 hike that would bring the E-ZPass toll to $14 by 2014, the tolls are increasing by $4.50 over four years.
Both papers cited sources saying that former Port Authority executives Bill Baroni and Dave Wildstein were the masterminds the secretive operation — the same two men who were allegedly at the heart of the George Washington Bridge lane closures in Fort Lee last September. Both have since resigned.
One source told The Record that Christie instructed his aides at the Port Authority to float the higher number.
“It was all bulls—,” a former Port Authority official told The Star-Ledger.
The Record interviewed eight people familiar with the operation. The Star-Ledger interviewed five former and one current Port Authority officials.
Those mentioned in the articles declined to comment.
Assemblywoman Linda Stender, D-Scotch Plains, told Miller the reports do not come as much of a surprise to her.
“This report confirms our worst suspicions,” she said. “We on the Transportation Committee started asking these questions over a year and a half ago when these toll increases went through, and we were never able to get straight answers. In fact, we weren’t able to get any answers at all, and that’s really why the original subpoenas were issued.
“I was disgusted to read it. I thought this ought not to be this way. We have to get to the bottom of it. We have to get the answers. Everybody deserves to know the truth of what’s gone on and how it’s been handled.”
State legislators and federal officials are investigating the Fort Lee lane closures. The biggest question they’re asking is whether Christie had any knowledge of them beforehand — something he has repeatedly denied.
In September, a report by the Government Accountability Office concluded that the Port Authority didn’t give the public enough opportunity to review and comment on the proposed increases.
Public hearings were held on one day, three days before the hikes were to take effect. The GAO report also found the Port Authority didn’t provide the public with an adequate explanation the toll increases.
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