A $1.8 billion road repair project involving another bridge is at the center of an investigation into the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and Gov. Chris Christie's office.
The New York Times
reports securities laws may have been violated during the 2011 repair project.
Christie is still fielding criticism over commuter lane closings entering the George Washington Bridge in what has been described as politically motivated retribution.
This time, questions are being raised about the dilapidated Pulaski Skyway that connects Newark and Jersey City, the report says.
The Times says prosecutors in the Manhattan district attorney's office are investigating, but the office declined to comment.
During the 2010 to 2011 period, Christie's office pressured the Port Authority to help pay for the repairs on that bridge and three other road projects. According to the Times, the plan was to divert money that had been earmarked to build a new Hudson River rail tunnel. Christie canceled that plan in 2010.
Port Authority lawyers warned the state government against the funding move many times, according to the Times. Agency attorneys stated that the Pulaski Skyway is not part of the Port Authority's jurisdiction, but is operated by the state of New Jersey, the Times said, referring to memos and emails between the governor's office and the Port Authority.
Christie eventually announced the projects publicly — before any agreement was reached — indicating that Port Authority funds would be used to pay for the bridge improvements, the Times reported.
The Port Authority called the projects "Lincoln Tunnel Access Infrastructure Improvements." At issue is whether that is an accurate description of the scope of work. A New York state law known as the Martin Act could allow prosecutors to bring felony charges for intentionally deceiving bondholders, the Times says.
North Jersey's The Record
newspaper also obtained confidential memos from Port Authority lawyers questioning the legality of authorizing funds gathered from tolls to repair roadways that don't lead to the Port's network of bridges and roads leading across the Hudson River.
The agency's attorneys said legislation as well as precedent prevented the use of toll money that the governor's office wanted, and said the expenditures could well be beyond the powers of the Port Authority, The Record reported.
The assistant general counsel of the Port Authority warned: "These prerequisites are grounded in bi-state statutes as well as contracts or covenants with bondholders and may not be waived, altered, or ignored under any circumstances."
But the Christie administration kept pushing for the funds, and despite their reservations, Port Authority officials approved
the move. They did so by saying repairs to the Pulaski Skyway and three other bridges and roads would improve or enhance access to the Lincoln Tunnel, which connects New York to New Jersey, The Record reported.
But there's a problem: The Pulaski Skyway and the other bridges approved under the measure are miles from the Lincoln Tunnel.
"The Pulaski Skyway was built to connect the rest of New Jersey to the Holland Tunnel," which is in Jersey City, Martin E. Robins, director emeritus at Rutgers University's Voorhees Transportation Center, told The Record in March.
Robins said it "would be a very indirect route to use to get to the Lincoln Tunnel, and I doubt very much that many people would take that route."
The Holland Tunnel was built before the Port Authority was formed, and so the agency is not legally authorized to build access roads to it, The Record says. But the Lincoln Tunnel and other routes across the Hudson are under the Port's jurisdiction.
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