Rockefeller: 'Zero evidence' NJ traffic study legitimate

The chairman of the Senate panel that regulates the nation's roadways said Thursday that there was "zero evidence" the traffic study used to explain lane closures on the busiest bridge in the United States, allegedly ordered by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), was legitimate.

Christie has been accused of shutting down lanes on the George Washington Bridge, which connects New Jersey to New York City, in an act of political retribution against a Democratic mayor who refused to endorse his bid for reelection last year.

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The September 2013 lane closures caused massive traffic delays on the George Washington Bridge, which carries 102 million vehicles per year. When the allegations of political retribution first arose, Christie attributed the lane closures to a traffic study that was being conducted by the New York and New Jersey Port Authority, which operates the popular bridge.

However, Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said Thursday that his own discussions with the Port Authority proved the lanes were not closed because of a traffic study.

"While we do not have all of the facts yet about how and why the September 9-13 lane closures happened, the Port Authority’s response to my December 16 letter provides a helpful update about what we know at this point," Rockefeller said in a statement.

“The letter explains the careful planning and communication that should happen before interstate bridge lanes are closed for a traffic study or any other non-emergency purpose," Rockefeller continued. "The Port Authority officials who ordered the September 9-13 George Washington Bridge lane closures did not follow their agency’s own procedures. The Port Authority’s response provides zero evidence that the purpose of these closures was to conduct a legitimate traffic study."

Even as Christie admitted his administration's responsibility for the lane closures after emails between two of his closest aides and state transportation officials were revealed last week, he has maintained the possibility that a traffic study was legitimately being conducted.

"I don't know if this was a traffic study that became a political vendetta or a political vendetta that became a traffic study," he said during a marathon press conference last week.

Rockefeller said Thursday it was clear the latter was the case, and he called the lane closures "unconscionable."

"I am also disturbed by the evidence showing that the Port Authority’s professional and engineering staff raised serious concerns about the lane closure plan," Rockefeller said. "They explained that the closures would cause significant congestion and delays, and would increase the risk of sideswipe crashes. It is unconscionable that anyone would block commercial traffic and risk the safety of thousands on our interstate highway system in this way."