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Editorial: Governors must commit to reforming the Port Authority

The Port Authority Board of Commissioners hold a

The Port Authority Board of Commissioners hold a hearing at Port Authority offices in Manhattan in 2011. Credit: Jennifer S. Altman

One year ago today, a New Jersey legislative committee issued a subpoena to a Port Authority political operative regarding the closing of traffic lanes on the George Washington Bridge.

That led to the release of emails from top aides to Gov. Chris Christie, including the damning "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." Legislative hearings in Trenton prompted a federal investigation, demands by lawmakers in New York and New Jersey for more agency accountability, and a promise by Christie and New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to clean up the bi-state authority.

Christie and Cuomo shortsightedly vetoed identical bills that would have added legislative oversight but more significantly also would have cemented into law important changes adopted by the authority, such as whistle-blower protection and substantive hearings on toll and fare increases. The governors said they would work with lawmakers to draft a more precise bill to codify the changes into law, and they must.

Along with their vetoes, Cuomo and Christie endorsed reforms from a panel they appointed that recommended creating a single chief executive with a direct chain of command to prevent episodes like the scandalous lane closings. The governors, however, should drop their bizarre request that current board members resign and seek reappointment. It would disrupt the staggered terms of the members and give them less insulation from the short-term demands of the governors.

Bridgegate revealed an agency that had lost focus on its transportation mission. The governors' panel plotted a road map that includes the agency selling the World Trade Center, modernizing its airports, building a bus terminal in Manhattan and expanding rail tunnel capacity under the Hudson River, something Christie vetoed once before.

A year later, we've learned that politics will never be fully scrubbed from the Port Authority. But the fallout from the lane closings might actually spur this agency to work better.