In late November 2013, state Sen. Adriano Espaillat of New York’s 31st District, said to his colleagues that while the George Washington Bridge “Bridgegate” incident appeared to have been initiated by New Jersey appointees attempting to influence their home states political process, “the Port Authority remains a bi-state agency. We are linked …by economic resources, integrated planning and shared oversight responsibilities.”
That is indeed true. But two other states are linked as well. And Connecticut and Pennsylvania deserve to be a part of the governance of what is now the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
The New York Metro Area includes parts of four states: New York (The city and counties comprising Long Island and the mid- and Lower Hudson Valley); New Jersey (its six largest cities and their vicinities); Pennsylvania (the five counties in Northeastern Pennsylvania) and Connecticut (Fairfield, Litchfield and New Haven counties, containing six of our seven largest cities).
On the Metro-North commuter railroad, the New Haven Line accounts for 47 percent of total ridership systemwide (39 million out of 83.4 million). Thousands of Connecticut citizens drive to New York City and Northern New Jersey on a daily basis. Putting aside airports, shipping terminals and the World Trade Center, commuter and commercial travel alone in the New York Metro area provides Connecticut with a substantial interest in how our interconnected transit system works in the Northeast Corridor. The Port Authority is the key to that system; its bureaucratic failings and financial extravagance have been repeatedly displayed well before the Christie/Bridgegate story first broke.
Based on available information, two Chris Christie-appointed employees of the Port Authority, David Wildstein and Bill Baroni, made the lane closure decision which caused last September’s placement of the now-infamous orange cones by the Fort Lee access points. That these two appointees were able to do this (even assuming Gov. Christie’s total non-participation in this saga) indicates that the Port Authority has undergone substantial changes since its inception nearly a century ago.
The Port Authority’s 1921 bylaws were intended to give day-to-day policy decision-making to its executive director, who was to make management and operational decisions in compliance with the policies established by its Board of Commissioners. Commissioner appointments were staggered to overlap the New York/New Jersey governors’ terms; the original intent was to enable the Port Authority to function as a purely governmental institution and not as a harbor for political appointments.
The Port Authority’s laudable origins have been largely forgotten. In recent years, governors from both New York and New Jersey have circumvented the Board of Commissioners to install political appointees. In 1995, New York Gov. George Pataki and New Jersey Gov. Christie Todd Whitman squabbled over the appointment of an executive director. They compromised by giving Pataki the appointment; Whitman was given an appointment for a deputy director. When Christie appointed Wildstein and Baroni, the Port Authority had devolved into a politically-powered fiefdom, run by persons having the ability to clog interstate traffic on our nation’s busiest bridge.
Connecticut’s economic development — not only in its three western counties, but throughout the length of Interstate 84 and Interstate 95 — depends on minimizing the time distances within the New York Metro area as well as within all points in the Northeast corridor. Our roads, bridges, mass transit systems and airports are four reasons why Connecticut should be part of the Port Authority. Its demonstrable failings in recent years is the fifth and most significant reason.