Gov. Chris Christie’s (R-N.J) Port Authority appointees said that September’s mess at the George Washington Bridge was part of a “traffic study.” This has been widely mocked as a ludicrous cover story.
Well, it turns out, they sort of were conducting a study. That is, while the closures appear to have been politically motivated, the “study” guise existed at the time the closures were going on, and was not wholly invented after the fact.
There’s even a Port Authority PowerPoint deck dated Sept. 12, the fourth day of the closures, titled “Reallocation Of Toll Lanes At The GWB: An EARLY assessment of the benefits of the trial.” This presentation was among documents released today by the New Jersey State Assembly committee investigating the Bridgegate scandal.
When Christie’s appointees closed two of three local access lanes to the bridge, Port Authority engineers really did watch the traffic effects closely. They found the change caused traffic backups in Fort Lee that stretched over half a mile and lasted well past rush hour, all the way until noon. Oops!
There was an offset: Traffic on Interstate 95, which got to use the two added tollbooths that were taken away from local traffic, moved faster. In fact, I-95 traffic experienced 966 fewer vehicle-hours of delay each day as a result of the change. Unfortunately, the mess in Fort Lee added 2,800 vehicle-hours of delay for local traffic.
That sounds like a failure. But Port Authority engineers weren’t ready to draw that conclusion, at least as of Sept. 12. Here’s the last slide of the deck:
The Port Authority engineers who carried out this “study” on the orders of Christie’s political appointees seem to have realised it wasn’t much of a study. In one email, traffic engineer Jose Rivera put scare quotes around “test” when describing the operation.
On Sept. 13, Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye, an appointee of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) put an end to the traffic “study”, so it appears the PowerPoint deck was never updated with a firmer set of conclusions.
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