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Editorial: Help the Port Authority flush out the politics

You have to start somewhere. Wednesday, Port Authority chairman David Samson apologized to the public on behalf of the agency for the "inconvenience caused to our travelers."


The former New Jersey attorney general and close confidant of Gov. Chris Christie was speaking about the massive four-day traffic jam inflicted last fall on drivers trying to reach the George Washington Bridge. Kids were stuck on school buses for hours. Ambulances couldn't reach Manhattan hospitals. Why? Because the bistate Port Authority, it seems, had closed off two access lanes to the bridge as a crazy act of political retribution against the mayor of Fort Lee.

Subsequent revelations about possible misdeeds by Christie's rabidly political appointees to the Port Authority show troubles run deep. For decades, governors on both sides of the Hudson River have called it dysfunctional -- and the Bridgegate scandal makes that description sound tame.

So now: How do we fix this messed-up agency?

A first step was taken Wednesday. The Port Authority's board of directors established a special oversight committee to look at the lessons to be learned from the scandal.

Some unflinching advice about restoring the competence and vision for which the agency was once lauded is required.

True, there have been some heroes as the scandal unfolded. Two of them are from Nassau County: A furious Patrick Foye, the authority's executive director, canceled the lane closures as soon as he heard about them and called the action criminal. His testimony before the New Jersey Legislature smashed the illusion by Christie's appointees that this was a routine traffic study. Deputy board chairman Scott Rechler has used a strong and steady hand to govern the authority amid the chaos and begin the reform movement.

Meanwhile, the New Jersey Legislature is looking into who decided to use the Port Authority as a blunt political instrument. The U.S. attorney's office has an even wider investigation underway.

Those inquiries won't get at the most fundamental problems. The authority is run by two competing factions -- both controlled by the appointees of two governors. Patronage has been rife for years in the agency, but especially during Christie's tenure.

Tired of the games, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo this year decided to take control of long-needed improvements to the authority's JFK and LaGuardia airports.

He had few other options. "There are operational issues" at the Port Authority, Cuomo said at a Newsday editorial board meeting Wednesday. "The Port has been a great concept and a great vision -- a national vision -- for a regional transportation agency. It has not worked well recently in operations."

Maybe pitfalls are inevitable. But for decades after its founding in 1921, the Port Authority did work competently.

Now that the Port Authority has finally hit bottom -- beset by a swarm of investigations and with its reputation in shreds -- how does it get its professionalism back?


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