The recent controversy over the George Washington Bridge traffic jam and the role that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie played will go on for a while, until someone tells the truth and points the finger at the right people. But readers should know more about the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns and operates the GWB.
If ever there was a dynasty in this region, the Port Authority is it. It doesn’t just own one bridge. It owns tunnels, shipping ports, vast amounts of waterfront property, helicopters and cars. It has its own police department that has vast powers over the traveling public.
But there’s a lot more to the story. The Port Authority is a two-state agency. It is a two-headed tiger with half its body in New Jersey and the other half in New York. It has a board made up of appointees from both states who have completely different agendas. Over any given period of time they agree to do a handful of projects in one state, and then the next round is in the other state. And make no mistake: They control many billions of dollars.
My first dealings with the Port Authority date back to 1966. I was a member of a committee in the State Assembly that had jurisdiction over the agency’s operations. The first day I met Port Authority officials, I could only think of the word “arrogant.” How dared we ask them any questions? Who did we think we were to tell them how to be more responsive to the public? Our discussions were useless, and the suits in the room treated us like dirt.
Fast-forward to 2014 and it’s pretty safe to say that the Port Authority hasn’t changed much. There are two staffs, each made up of executives from the two states. They talk to each other from time to time, but each staff does its own thing for its own state. Christie, who loves political patronage like some people like McDonald’s, has loaded up the Port Authority staff with as many buddies as you can think of. New York state hasn’t taken advantage of those opportunities to the extent that New Jersey has.