Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. is investigating whether the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey improperly financed the $1 billion renovation of the Pulaski Skyway, a person familiar with the matter said.
Vance’s prosecutors have conducted interviews about the agency’s funding of reconstruction of the 82-year-old roadway in New Jersey that connects Newark and Kearny to Jersey City, said the person, who wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly and asked not to be identified. The bridge’s northbound lanes closed today as part of a two-year renovation.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie directed the Port Authority to spend $1.8 billion on the Pulaski Skyway and other road projects. He made the move after deciding in 2010 to kill a planned $8.7 billion commuter-train tunnel under the Hudson River that would have included $3 billion in Port Authority money.
The Vance investigation comes amid probes by New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman and the state legislature into the politically motivated creation of traffic jams near the George Washington Bridge last September.
They are examining which of Christie’s aides and allies at the Port Authority ordered closings of the bridge’s access lanes. Christie, a Republican weighing a White House run in 2016, has seen his popularity slide amid the scandal.
An internal investigation commissioned by Christie concluded he had nothing to do with the traffic tie-ups, blaming them on Bridget Anne Kelly, a former deputy chief of staff, and David Wildstein, once a top Port Authority official.
The Wall Street Journal, citing a person familiar with the matter it didn’t identify, reported earlier that Vance subpoenaed Port Authority records. Those records included correspondence among agency officials and the Christie administration on topics including rebuilding the World Trade Center site, projects in New Jersey and the PATH transportation hub in lower Manhattan, the newspaper said.
Emily Tuttle, a spokeswoman for Vance, declined to comment yesterday on the probe. Steve Coleman, a Port Authority spokesman, also declined to comment.
The New York Times, citing a person who spoke on the condition of anonymity since the investigation is continuing, said the probe also is expected to include the major repairs on the Goethals and Bayonne Bridges.
The Bergen Record reported March 30 that Port Authority lawyers expressed concern internally that funding of the Pulaski Skyway and the other three road projects fell outside the legal scope of the agency’s authority. The skyway leads to the Holland Tunnel, and the Port Authority isn’t legally authorized to build access roads to that Hudson River crossing, the newspaper said.
Rather, the Port Authority can build access roads to the Lincoln Tunnel, the newspaper said. The Port Authority approved the $1.8 billion in payments for the four projects, saying they would enhance access to the Lincoln Tunnel, although they are miles from the crossing, the Record said.
Christie’s administration pressed for the approval even though spending outside its transportation network needs approval by lawmakers in New York and New Jersey, the newspaper said. After a five-month debate among three agencies and Christie’s office, “a complicated, highly technical resolution was found to send the money to New Jersey,” the Record said.
The future of the George Washington Bridge lane closings inquiry by New Jersey lawmakers is unclear.
A state judge on April 9 quashed subpoenas issued by lawmakers for records from Kelly and Bill Stepien, a former Christie campaign manager. The judge ruled that the act of turning over the records would violate the constitutional rights of Kelly and Stepien against self-incrimination.
State Assemblyman John Wisniewski, co-chairman of a legislative panel investigating the lane closings, said the committee is looking at its next move after the judge’s ruling. The panel can appeal the decision, rewrite the subpoenas or grant immunity to Kelly and Stepien.
Wisniewski also said the panel may call witnesses to testify as soon as next month.