Friday, January 10, 2014

Why The Chris Christie Bridge Scandal Is Really a Big Deal

Here in Southern California, aside from enjoying comfortable temperatures while most of the country drudges through harsh winter weather, some people have been wondering just what the hell is the big deal over closing a few lanes on the Fort Lee, New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge.

After all on Thursday former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani told Politico the George Washington Bridge scandal is “a stupid political prank that backfired” that should not reflect on New Jersey Governor's Chris Christie’s leadership.

To put this fast growing bridge scandal in perspective and why it is a big deal, let us imagine, for example, a hypothetical governor of California does not like the fact that a hypothetical mayor of, let us say Downey, did not endorse and support him/her for reelection. Then imagine very close members this governor's chief of staff and some of the governor's appointees to CalTrans suddenly, and without any public notice, decide to close all but one lane both ways on the I-5 through Downey for four days during the middle of an average work week for no apparent reason other than the need for a sudden traffic study.

Think some people would be upset?

If you are a regular commuter on our freeways you know very well how a Sig-Alert can greatly upset the delicate balance of the flow of the freeway. When that balance is upset suddenly your commute is ruined, or worse yet, your plans for the day are completely wasted (you are not a true Southern Californian unless once in your life you have had your entire day ruined by being stuck in freeway gridlock hell).

Whether it is a Sig-Alert, or planned, and well announced, (and seemingly never ending) CalTrans project, the lane or freeway closure quickly ripples throughout the Southern California freeway system, and onto the surface streets.

So, back over in The Garden State, basically the story so far is that Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, had failed to endorse republican Mr. Christie for re-election, and it appears based on released documents that the governor's inner-circle decided to "get back" at the mayor and his apparent democrat supporters for not supporting the governor's reelection bid. Mr. Christie says he had no knowledge of any of this.

It is important to remember that the George Washington Bridge is the busiest bridge in the country carrying approximately 102 million vehicles per year, according to September 2013 records from The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who controls the bridge.

Somebody had to know very well that closing these lanes were going to have a profound impact on traffic, and if that was the the intended goal, which all signs are pointing that way, well, then goal achieved!

As The New York Times, CNN and other outlets are reporting, aside from many people being made late to work, school children were made late to school, and what is becoming one of the centerpieces of this story after the political fallout, emergency responders were delayed. 

One particular delay of paramedics is raising a lot questions, and that is whether the induced gridlock delayed paramedics' effort to save a 91-year-old woman who was in cardiac arrest and later died. The family of the deceased woman told CNN that they do not believe the closed lanes and subsequent backup was the cause of death. However one NJ State Senator, Ray Lesniak, a Democrat, tells CNN, "Endangering people's lives, that's not politics. That's why the U.S. attorneys have to get involved." Mr. Lesniak is asking for federal prosecutors to open an investigation into whether the lane closures were a factor in the woman's death.

It so far appears based on documents available that Mr. Christie's deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly appears to have set the process in motion when she wrote to David Wildstein, an executive at Port Authority appointed to that position by Mr. Christie, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”

“Got it,” Mr. Wildstein wrote back.

As NBC News asks, "the exchange reads as if it wasn’t the first time that Ms. Kelly or Mr. Wildstein had heard or thought of such a plan. But it’s not clear whose idea it was in the first place."

Now, coming back to Southern California, just imagine if all but one lane both ways on the I-5 through Downey were closed and your 15 minute commute turns into a one-hour plus nightmare, and you have a boss who does not care why you are late. Or that fun day at Disneyland you and your family have been planning for months is ruined because you have wasted the whole morning turned afternoon sitting in traffic. Or, you have a loved one who is having a medical emergency and, when every second matters, paramedics are slow to arrive, because surface traffic is backed up due to lanes on the I-5 being unexpectedly closed.

Such an event impacts not just the health and safety of people, but has an actual impact on the local economy. In fact, you may remember "Carmageddon" and the closure of the I-405 had an impact on the economy.

You hopefully can see now why this fiasco on the George Washington Bridge is a big deal. This is why many people should be asking, regardless of any political affiliation, who ordered this stunt, who knew what, and when did they know it?

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