Governor Christie finally found some enthusiasm for transit issues this week as he threw two of his highest-ranking aides ‘under the bus’. It was front page news as Jerseyans reacted with bemusement to Christie’s press conference in which he claimed he didn’t know that his officials conspired to inflict traffic chaos on the town of Fort Lee in retribution for the Mayor’s refusal to support Christie’s reelection bid in last year’s Gubernatorial vote. Under the pretense of conducting a ‘traffic study’, top Christie honchos closed several lanes of the George Washington Bridge, leading to 4-hour commutes, delayed emergency responses and children trapped in school buses for hours on end in nearby Fort Lee. The story raises a couple of important questions….
First, what does it tell us about our lifestyle when the closure of a few highway lanes can bring total dysfunction to a community? It proves that we have become way, waaay too dependent on cars for getting around. In the jargon, our communities are ‘fragile’, because any disturbance of traffic patterns causes chaos. In Princeton, we are particularly dependent on Route 1, which has grown to the extent that any incident that impacts traffic there causes extraordinary delays and back-ups. That’s not good.
Second, Christie has denied all knowledge of his top aides’ naughtiness. Sound familiar?
A cynic might point out that the Fort Lee incident is not the first time where a town full of Democrats suffered chaos because of a State-mandated ‘traffic study’ that snarled cars and endangered pedestrians. Yep, we’re thinking of Princeton in 2012, when NJDOT closed jug-handle entrances to the town in a ‘pilot study’, which brought residents into the street with placards to protest the back-ups and illegal traffic maneuvers in their neighborhoods. Conspiracy? No way! (right?) Even though Governor Christie snubbed the chance to live in his Princeton mansion, he’s our pal, after Princeton was the only town to take up his call for municipal consolidation.
NJDOT commissioner James Simpson seemed genuinely sensitive to residents’ concerns about the unintended consequences of the Route 1 jughandle experiment. His job has undoubtedly been made much harder by the revelations about what happened in Fort Lee. How are Jerseyans supposed to have confidence in transportation planning if officials from the Governor’s Office are using traffic as a weapon of political warfare??
A second controversy has been simmering in Princeton over the Governor’s potential involvement in relocating Princeton’s rail station to a new site south of the town. Critics from the ‘Save The Dinky’ group (note: there is no current plan to eliminate the ‘Dinky‘) have challenged every step of the process that has led to the station move. Although their efforts to reverse it have so far been unsuccessful, their most recent court defeat brought a judicial acknowledgement that the authority to move the station lay with NJDOT. This contradicts previous statements from NJDOT that they were bound by prior legal agreements to move the station at the request of Princeton University, who purchased the site in the 1980s. Why would NJDOT voluntarily move their station further away from the townspeople who use it?
One idea is that NJDOT were acting under the instructions of a Princeton University trustee- specifically, Mr Christopher James Christie. Christie is a strong advocate of Princeton University’s Lewis Center plan, which is the impetus for the station move. In 2011, he wrote a letter to Princeton Council, urging support for the University plan. Did he also lean on NJDOT officials to make sure they agreed to move the station- even though the move runs counter to maintaining transit access to central Princeton? Until this point, such an idea could be dismissed as a conspiracy theory. Not any more. If Christie’s officials were corruptly interfering with transportation decisions for their own political advantage in Fort Lee, it’s hardly a stretch to imagine that they also strong-armed NJDOT over the Dinky move in Princeton.
The only way to clear up this mess is for a proper investigation. Managers from the Port Authority, NJDOT and other state agencies must be questioned under oath to reveal the extent of corrupt decision-making influenced by Christie administration officials. Governor Christie has a strong mandate from New Jersey voters, so he certainly has the authority to make controversial decisions such as the much-lamented cancellation of the ARC Tunnel project. He does not, however, have the authority to do anything he likes- and in the interests of transparency, Princeton ought to know whether he gave a direct order to cut short our rail line.
What do you think? Do you see the hand of Christie in the decision to move the Dinky Station? And if he was involved- is that even a big deal? Does the Governor have the political authority to move railroad stations if he thinks it’s advantageous? Should Princeton elected officials be asking more questions about this case? Or are you sick of hearing about the Dinky ‘controversy’ and just wish that the new Lewis Center was built already? Have your say in the comments section below!