Rabbi Shmuley: The Rip-Off George Washington Bridge Was Always a Scandal

The George Washington Bridge. (Photo by Arman Dzidzovic)

The George Washington Bridge. (Photo by Arman Dzidzovic)

The incredible thing about the Chris Christie bridge scandal is why it took so long to be outraged by the George Washington Bridge. Even without deliberate lane closures the bridge is a total mess and takes about an hour to cross the mile-long span in rush hour. It would be faster crawling on all fours.

I’m writing this column from Europe where I’m on a lecture tour. The roads here, whether in Britain or Switzerland, are smooth and newly paved. The George Washington Bridge, the world’s busiest crossing leading to the world’s wealthiest city, is straight out of the third world and more closely resembles the bridge over the River Kwai after it was dynamited.

It’s permanently under construction. There are always lane closings. It’s rusting and decaying and looks like a hunk of metal that in its glory days was a true engineering marvel but is now being held together by gum and glue. It’s called upon to do way too much for way too many people.

At night, when the lights are on, the GWB can be absolutely beautiful. But the Port Authority apparently decided it’s so bankrupt that they can rarely illuminate the bridge. So now it looks as ugly at night as it does during the day.

And the traffic is constant. There is really no way of knowing when it will be free, even outside of rush hour. If you live in Jersey, as do we, and you have an appointment in the city—whether it’s a meeting in midtown during the day or a theater event in the evening—you can’t predict if you’re going to be on time. You have to leave a week before the meeting and take a Manhattan hotel. You’ve also got to remember to check Google maps before you leave. And there is a dizzying number of choices, all in an effort to try and avoid the parking that you so often encounter on the bridge.

Should I take the approach from the Palisade Parkway? Nah, that’s two lanes and inevitably, in the morning rush hour, the line goes back a few miles. O.K., let’s hit the upper level from the main approach. Bad idea. There’s always some giant forklift doing work. O.K., the lower level then. No, because then there’s a backup from the I-87, which leads to a near complete standstill on the lower level. 

I’m not trying to create some Jersey version of the Californians from Saturday Night Live, with endless talk of roads and beating the traffic. I’m trying to convey the frustration that each of us who uses the bridge confronts every day when we have to stop ourselves from pulling our hair out (or in my case, my beard) as we employ strategies to get around the traffic mess. Jersey universities should start offering Ph.D.’s in GWB traffic.

Then, there’s the real kicker. The cost of the aggravation is not free. It actually costs an eye-popping $13 every time you cross the darn thing. Thirteen bucks! Multiply that by maybe five times a week and you spend thousands of dollars a year to cross the bridge. And that’s on top of the second highest taxes in the nation that we already pay in Jersey, between income tax and property tax, to get our pot-holed roads and subpar municipal services.

I know, I know. Living in New Jersey, you kind of expect to be ripped off. What with 565 municipalities, larded county governments, and endless redundancies in fire, police and road maintenance between all the various cities, you know there’s going to be corruption and you know the politicians are going to take the skin off your back.

That’s why this story of sudden and extreme outrage over being screwed by our political class on the GWB is actually edifying. This is the first example I’ve seen of people in New Jersey not just taking it on the chin but actually fighting back.

We’re tired of spending half our lives in traffic jams. We’re tired of driving on roads that resemble Beirut at the height of the Lebanese Civil War. And we’re tired of politicians who play games with our lives in order to get ahead while we’re left behind.

Now, if we can just channel that outrage from a single scandal into the ongoing scandal that it New Jersey, maybe we can finally get out of the jam we’re in.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is listed by The Jerusalem Post as one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.