TRENTON – The head of the bi-state port authority told N.J. lawmakers today that procedures were violated and residents’ safety was put at risk by one official’s decision to shut down Fort Lee lanes at the George Washington Bridge in September.
Patrick Foye, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said that as a result he has put in place checks and balances to ensure nothing like this happens again.
Foye, testifying today before the Assembly Transportation Committee after receiving a subpoena, is New York’s top appointed official at the Authority. His criticism was leveled at New Jersey’s second-highest appointee at the Authority, David Wildstein, who since has given his resignation.
Foye decried what Wildstein did, but Transportation Chair John Wisniewski questioned why Wildstein was not fired as soon as his involvement became clear. Wisniewski also said they may subpoena Wildstein and Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni.
Foye told lawmakers Monday that Wildstein violated numerous conditions by deciding to close lanes, including not providing plenty of advance notice to those who were going to be affected.
Foye informed the panel that as soon as he learned of what was going on he ordered the lanes be reopened as safely and as quickly as possible.
He added they are aware that school buses and first-responder vehicles were needlessly delayed and that for all intents and purposes, Fort Lee was shut down during rush hour.
He told the lawmakers that what happened Sept. 9-12 can’t happen again, and that he is leading an ongoing review of procedures to make sure it doesn’t.
“What occurred that week was unacceptable,’’ Foye said. “My immediate focus was public safety,’’ Foye said.
Wisniewski told Foye that people at the Authority need to feel safe in raising concerns that they won’t be retaliated against. Earlier today, two officials said they knew the closures were problematic but they would not bypass the chain of command to raise objections.
Wisniewski wanted to know why Wildstein, a former PolitickerNJ editor, was not terminated as soon as it became clear he was responsible for the decision.
“Mr. Wildstein is the culprit, if that’s the right word,’’ Foye said, adding there still is a review under way, and that had Wildstein not quit, he might indeed have been fired.
Foye said that Wildstein, since the incident, has had no role or responsibility at the Authority, but Wisniewski pressed on: Why was he still drawing a paycheck?
Foye reiterated there are procedures in place, but sought to assure him that such “aberrant” behavior won’t be allowed to occur again.
But Wisniewski made it clear how he felt about the fact Wildstein was allowed to resign.
“That gives me cause for cynicism,’’ Wisniewski said, and he warned the committee may issue a subpoena for Wildstein and Baroni in the future.
Foye even said he was not aware any traffic study occurred, although that was ostensibly the reasons given for the closures.