Bridgegate: Was it to Justify the Toll Hikes?

January 17, 2014 Updated: March 3, 2014

The reasons for the illegal lane closures at the George Washington Bridge in the Bridgegate scandal are still a mystery. Although Mayor Sokolich was blamed by Port Authority police officers, and Sen Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg was running for re-election and Christie would love nothing more than a Senate without her in it, and Steve Kornacki’s real estate theory was intriguing, we still have no proof. 

Here is my theory, although not very Hollywood, it is logical and explains the involvement of so many people, including the Commissioners. The illegal closures may have simply been done to justify the toll increases that the Port Authority had rushed through and to distract from a scathing Congressional report  that came out the week of the closures. It also makes Christie’s choice of attorney more interesting. Christie chose the same attorney representing the Port Authority in the toll hike lawsuit.

Lautenberg’s Report

On September 14th an excellent article written by Shawn Boberg appeared discussing a Congressional GAO report about the Port Authority. The subject was the impending toll hike scheduled to take effect after the election..

It appeared, Senator Lautenberg, who had passed away in June 2013 reached out from beyond the grave, to admonish Bill Baroni, and help NJ commuters one last time. Sen Lautenberg had been outraged by the increasing tolls to cross the Hudson and asked for a report to the Senate Commerce Committee about the Port Authority. That report was released September 13, 2013. The very day the traffic was relieved by the actions of Patrick Foye. 

Perhaps the reason the lane closure conspirators were so angry at Foye coming in to save the day, with Stepien calling him “Captain America”, was because perhaps they wanted to be the ones to do that.

The scathing report stated that the Port Authority “did not provide sufficient, convenient, accessible opportunities for the public to comment on the proposal” to raise the tolls. The Port Authority had meetings about the toll hikes in 2011 all over the area, but all on the very same day and at hours inconvenient to commuters and in difficult to get to locations.  In September 2011, AAA filed a lawsuit against the Port Authority because of the toll hike increase.  

Alarmed by the mission creep and expensive real estate adventures of the Port Authority, the NJ Legislature  in 2011 passed a bill to provide more oversight over the PA by the Legislature, but Governor Christie vetoed it.

The main concern was that the Port Authority was spending the toll money on adventures in other areas, having nothing to do with crossing the Hudson. NYC.org did a great report  January 17, 2014 on how Wildstein and Baroni had helped turn the Port Authority into a political ATM that nobody in the NJ state legislature had the pin number to. The NYC.org report focuses on the the Port Authority takeover of the airport in Atlantic City (a three hour drive away), the Harrison rail station and the Bayonne Bridge raising.

Baroni v. Lautenberg

To those who had witnessed Bill Baroni‘s ill mannered response to Senator Lautenberg during the April 18th 2012, hearing before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Surface Transportation, Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security hearing entitled, “Protecting Commuters: Ensuring Accountability and Oversight in Tolling.” (Politico incorrectly attributes that outburst to David Wildstein), Baroni’s  arrogance of working for the unaccountable Port Authority was starting to show. 

Baroni appeared anxious to get the toll increase through for the Port Authority perhaps because,  like a black hole, the Port Authority was sucking up more and more money from commuters to lavish on Christie’s pet projects that would garner heavy union support  for re-election, rather than the Hudson River crossings that should be its main concern. Wildstein had even done political opposition research on the venerable Senator Lautenberg that Baroni was anxious to use at the hearing according to the NYC.org report.

Well, Senator Lautenberg was barely laid to rest in June before Deputy Director Bill Baroni was doing photo ops in Atlantic City on July 2, for the takeover by the Port Authority of NY/NJ of the Atlantic City Airport. Since that time, air traffic has actually decreased to Atlantic City. 

At a time when the public was about to experience another toll hike to take effect just after the election, the Friday the 13th report raised questions about why the Port Authority needed more money when the commuters being soaked were funding projects unrelated to crossing the Hudson. 

If Patrick Foye had not intervened, the weeklong traffic jam would have been at the peak of pique by the time the report came out. A traffic jam that required overtime for police officers like Union head Paul Nunziato argued to get more of. A traffic jam which may have forced the public to cry uncle to Samson, Baroni, and Wildstein, “Give the Port Authority any increase it wants, just give us some relief!”

Catch 22

If the lanes were closed to create traffic  to justify a toll increase (which Mark Sokolich was against) for the hiring of new officers, the building of more toll lanes, other adventures in real estate, or projects to garner union support, rather than a personal vendetta, now Christie’s men at the Port Authority were caught in a Catch 22. They could not admit that the reason the lanes were closed was not retribution to Mark Sokolich for a non-endorsement without admitting they falsely created the traffic problems to justify highway robbery, their exorbitant toll hikes or distraction from the Congressional report. But the silence made things worse. They may have assumed they could sweep in, and save the day by alleviating the problem – like the arsonist who comes to save your house dressed as a firefighter and you would gratefully accept his help not minding that he was picking your pocket at the very same time. Perhaps  they were so angry at Foye for inviting even more scrutiny on the whole operation of the Authority. Like the finances.

We know the conspirators promptly freaked out after the plans they had laid carefully for weeks, outsmarting even themselves, had been foiled by Patrick Foye, who was apparently left out of the plan or so appalled by it he had to act.   

Hostages

As much as Governor Christie has a reputation as a bully, this may not have been retribution before an election, but an actual hostage situation over the oldest reason in the book. Money.  A conspiracy to cause traffic so bad that the public, the possible intended target here, so desperate for a solution, would pay any price to a bloated Shadow Government that had become a patronage mill, with no accountability, no respect for any kind of oversight , and with lots of political hands out, just to make it stop, make it stop. 

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

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