WASHINGTON -- New Jersey traffic jams have hit the nation's capital. On Monday, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) asked the Department of Transportation to look into why officials in New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's (R) administration abruptly shut down access lanes to the busiest U.S. bridge in September and caused massive traffic jams, a move that some Democrats have characterized as political retribution.
Between Sept. 9-13, drivers attempting to cross the George Washington Bridge by the three access lanes in Fort Lee, N.J., found two of the lanes closed. As a result, vehicles backed up into Fort Lee's local roads, creating a mess for both bridge and local traffic.
The closures were ordered by David Wildstein, a high-ranking Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official and an ally of Christie's. They came just weeks after Fort Lee's Democratic mayor, Mark Sokolich, refused to endorse Christie's reelection bid. On Sept. 12, Sokolich said he believed the closures were "punitive," although he later backed off that accusation.
Wildstein and his boss, former state Sen. Bill Baroni, have since resigned. Christie sought to quell the growing controversy last week by holding a press conference, but many Democrats have not been satisfied with his answers.
On Monday, Rockefeller, chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, wrote to Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and asked for a review of the incident. He also wrote to the chairs of the Port Authority, asking for answers to a list of nine questions.
"While this type of decision tends to be local in nature, I am concerned about the larger federal implications of what appears to be political appointees abusing their power to hamper interstate commerce and safety without public notice," wrote Rockefeller.
State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D) also plans to introduce a resolution Thursday asking Congress to investigate the Port Authority.
"Congress should be looking at the law that created the Port Authority," Weinberg told the Associated Press.
When asked about the senator's letter, Department of Transportation spokeswoman Casey Hernandez replied, "We have received the letter and will respond directly to Senator Rockefeller." The Port Authority's inspector general is also currently conducting a review of the incident.
Baroni has argued that the lane closures were part of a traffic study. But Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye, who was appointed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), said he was never aware of any study.
In his press conference, Christie stood by Baroni's explanation, saying that while Baroni and Wildstein did not go through the proper channels for the closures, there was no malicious or political intent in what they did.
"I can only tell you what Sen. Baroni has said publicly and to everybody in this office, which is they believed the traffic study was necessary and that they ordered it, but the way they did it was mistaken and they didn't follow protocols," Christie said, adding that he was in the dark about what was going on at the time.
Christie also denied that Baroni's resignation Friday was related to the bridge controversy, saying Baroni had planned to step down for quite some time.
Still, the Democratic National Committee has continued to hammer Christie, who is viewed as a possible 2016 presidential contender. On Friday morning, the Democratic National Committee put out a video saying Christie was "playing politics."
Cuomo has backed up Christie on the closures, saying on Monday, "I'm sure it is as Gov. Christie says it is."
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