The George Washington Bridge lane closing scandal has put a significant crimp in Chris Christie’s chances of becoming the GOP’s standard-bearer in the 2016 presidential campaign. But it may be the closure of another bridge roadway, the northbound lanes on the Pulaski Skyway, that sinks it entirely. In April, half the Pulaski Skyway shut down for two years of repairs. The reconstruction of this eighty-two-year-old bridge is being financed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. But as Christie Watch reported earlier, the legality of Christie’s Port Authority money grab, acquiesced to by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, was questioned for many months by Port Authority lawyers, who were pressured ultimately into finding a legal justification for it. Now that justification and how it came about are under scrutiny by government investigators.
The Securities and Exchange Commission has launched an investigation into whether the Port Authority violated securities laws in allowing the funds to be used for the Pulaski Skyway, according to Lisa Brennan of Main Justice, an online publication that reports on the Department of Justice and the work of US attorneys nationwide. Two enforcement division lawyers in the SEC’s New York office are probing whether the agency committed fraud.
The issue is also among the topics being scrutinized by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, says Main Justice. In mid-April The Wall Street Journal reported that Vance had subpoenaed Port Authority correspondence between top PA officials and the Christie administration.
In late 2010 Christie abruptly cancelled the multibillion-dollar ARC tunnel project connecting New Jersey and New York, despite the fact that groundbreaking had already taken place and there had been ten years of preparatory work. He was determined that the $1.8 billion that had been allocated to New Jersey for the tunnel by the PA instead pay for road and bridge projects in New Jersey. It was widely seen as a political move by Christie, who did not want to lose his tenuous credibility with conservatives by raising New Jersey’s gas tax, one of the lowest in the country. Christie’s view, according to The New York Times, was:
The tunnel “didn’t happen, and the money is there to be utilized,” Mr. Christie said. “It should be utilized for transportation projects to improve this state.”
But before he had the go-ahead from PA lawyers Christie announced at a press conference in January 2011 that he was going to use the PA money for internal New Jersey transportation systems, projects that its lawyers had serious questions about.
The PA can use money from its tolls and fares only for roads, bridges and tunnels considered part of its transportation network, unless the legislatures of both states agree to an exception. The Pulaski Skyway and related roadways are a key link between New Jersey’s largest city, Newark, and the Holland Tunnel that goes to New York City. But for historical reasons the Holland Tunnel and its feeder roads are outside the jurisdiction of the Port Authority.