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NJ Bridgegate Figures Face Prison

Thursday, March 30, 2017

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A former high-ranking official in the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and a former staffer of the New Jersey governor's office have been sentenced to prison for their roles in the so-called “Bridgegate” scandal that tied up traffic in the town of Fort Lee, New Jersey, for several days in 2013.

Bill Baroni, a political appointee of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, was convicted last November on seven counts of conspiracy and fraud-related charges in connection with the closure in September 2013 of several toll-booth lanes on the George Washington Bridge. He was sentenced Wednesday (March 29) to two years in prison and 500 hours of community service.

Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, was also convicted on the same charges in November, and was sentenced Wednesday to 18 months in prison, plus one year of probation and 500 hours of community service.

Politically Motivated

At the time, officials said the lane closures were part of a traffic study on the bridge, but evidence uncovered after the closure indicates Baroni and Kelly knowingly caused traffic issues in retribution for Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich’s refusal to endorse Christie in his bid for re-election. Local officials in Fort Lee were reportedly kept in the dark about the shutdown.

A third conspirator, David Wildstein, pleaded guilty in 2015, and admitted that the closures were politically motivated. Wildstein, who said the shutdown was his idea, testified against Baroni and Kelly as part of a plea agreement.

Kelly was the author of a now-infamous email less than a month before the closures, simply reading, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”

Some have alleged that Christie himself knew about the plot, but the governor was never charged, and has maintained that he did not know about it until afterward, when the incriminating emails were made public.

Traffic Effects

During the shutdown, Sept. 9 through Sept. 13, 2013, traffic on the Fort Lee side of the bridge came to a standstill, with school buses delayed for hours and emergency vehicles unable to make progress in the gridlock. One woman whose ambulance was delayed by the traffic later died of cardiac arrest at the hospital, though her family declined to blame the traffic for her death.

GWB
Beyond My Ken, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The George Washington Bridge, a double-decked suspension bridge, connects Fort Lee with Manhattan, and carries more than 100,000,000 vehicles annually.

In text messages released after the fact, Kelly told Wildstein, “I feel badly about the kids I guess”; Wildstein replied, “They are the children of Buono voters,” referring to the Democratic candidate who was challenging Christie for the governor’s office that year.

About the Bridge

The George Washington Bridge, a double-decked suspension bridge, connects Fort Lee with Manhattan, and carries more than 100,000,000 vehicles annually, making it the world’s busiest bridge. It is operated by the Port Authority, a joint body run by the states of New York and New Jersey.

The bridge’s 3,500-foot-long main span was the longest in the world when it was first built, in 1931. The lower level was opened in 1962.

The Port Authority is currently undertaking a decade-long, $2 billion “Restoring the George” renovation project, including the removal of lead paint, rehabilitation of structural steel, replacement of suspender ropes, and rehabilitation of the main cable.

   

Tagged categories: Bridges; Criminal acts; Ethics; Government; Infrastructure; Laws and litigation; North America; Program/Project Management

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