While the federal criminal case is clearly about Chris Christie’s role in Bridgegate, only his underlings were indicted and put on trial. After spending tens of millions of dollars of tax money investigating a traffic jam at the George Washington Bridge, the only ones who may actually be punished do not include Chris Christie, the Governor or David Samson, the Chairman of the Port Authority of NY & NJ.
Notwithstanding the State of NJ’s own guidelines to the contrary, the lawyers defending Christie had a blank check and an hourly rate of over $500/hour. The legal bills accumulated in defense of the Governor are known to exceed $10 million. The cost of the legislative branch’s hearings on the matter is not calculated, but must be in the millions. The public never knows how much federal criminal trials cost, but it is safe to say that the federal government has spent in the high seven figures on it, too.
It would not be unfair to estimate the total price tag for the Chris Christie Bridgegate show at between $30 million to $40 million. In the fever to “get” a politician, no one asks whether all this money would have been better spent solving NJ’s traffic problems instead.
The administrative system certainly works well enough to sustain termination of the employees who may have misused their public jobs. Even at the Port Authority, the price tag for legal fees would have been under $1 million to terminate the alleged wrongdoers and to litigate any employment dispute they might have filed afterwards.
Sadly, traffic is a way of life in this state. New Jersey is home to five of the country’s 50 stretches of road with the worst traffic bottlenecks, according to the American Highway Users Alliance. The Lincoln Tunnel between 10th Ave and John F Kennedy Blvd is the nation’s eight biggest traffic nightmare, resulting in 3.4 million hours of delay each year.
The stretch of road on I-95 between SR4 and the Palisades Interstate Pkwy in Fort Lee comes in at 18th. While less than a mile long, the congestion costs New Jersey drivers $38 million in wasted time as they spend 1.5 million hours a year sitting in traffic and unnecessarily burn 810,680 gallons of gas.
As for other New Jersey roadways that made the list, the Pulaski Skyway between I-95 and Central Avenue in Newark was ranked 19. Meanwhile, Routes 1&9 between Wilson Avenue and I-78 came in at 31, and the Pulaski Skyway between Tonnelle Avenue and Broadway was ranked 37.
Gov. Christie has denied that he ordered the lane closures, maintaining he learned of the scheme months after it occurred. Yet he still remains in prosecutors’ crosshairs and may even be subpoenaed to testify. The Governor’s legal bills will likely continue to climb, all over a traffic jam. Meanwhile, the state’s Transportation Trust Fund is running dry, and there is no end in sight to our everyday traffic woes.
In the end, $40 million plus later, what did the taxpayers get? Chris Christie lies, and he even lies about lying. Did we really need to spend $40 million to get the satisfaction for some people to say, “I told you so?”
Donald Scarinci is a managing partner at Lyndhurst, N.J. based law firm Scarinci Hollenbeck. He is also the editor of the Constitutional Law Reporter and Government and Law blogs.