Opinion: GWB inquiry must not be cut short

This was never going to be a quick and tidy inquiry, no matter who was doing the investigating.

THEODORE ROOSEVELT never had to cross the George Washington Bridge, but he certainly had it right when...

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Opinion: GWB inquiry must not be cut short

June 03, 2014

This was never going to be a quick and tidy inquiry, no matter who was doing the investigating.

THEODORE ROOSEVELT never had to cross the George Washington Bridge, but he certainly had it right when he said, "Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty."

Anyone who thought discovering the whole truth behind the September closing of those access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee was going to be an easy task was either kidding themselves or reading from partisan talking points.

This was going to require effort, pain and difficulty.

Quite simply, this was never going to be a quick and tidy inquiry, no matter who was doing the investigating, especially when several people invoked their right against self-incrimination, putting up a major obstacle in front of efforts to get key information to the public.

That's why it was disappointing to see Editorial Page Editor Alfred P. Doblin's June 2 column ("At least $2 million to not cross the GWB") state that the investigation has unnecessarily dragged on.

New Jerseyans still don't know why this abuse of government power and threat to public safety happened. They don't know how it was ordered. They don't have clear answers as to who knew what and when, and they still don't know why the governor's office didn't seem to do more late last year to find out what happened.

So many key questions remain unanswered.

Some may be bored by the issue, while others don't want to know answers for fear they'll reflect poorly upon their political allies, but the legislative oversight role is one that I take very seriously — as do many members of the Legislature. It's a role designed to protect the public interest, and it's one that's critical as this investigation plays out.

Several law enforcements agencies are reportedly looking into matters surrounding these closings, but turning the entire matter over to such agencies is not entirely in the public interest. Granted, we have promised not to interfere with any investigation — and that is a vow that has guided our decision-making, as evidenced by the recent delay in the testimony of Patrick Foye, the Port Authority's executive director — but if we leave it to law enforcement, we may not ever learn what really happened.

Law enforcement investigations and the grand jury process are meant to be secret and confidential processes, for good reason. They could uncover matters that are allegedly illegal, but not necessarily reveal the entire story.

And remember, this inquiry doesn't include only the questions surrounding these lane closings. It also includes still-unanswered questions about the painful toll increases that were foisted upon the public by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Drivers — some of whom pay more in tolls annually than they do in state income tax — deserve to know all the answers about these toll increases and how they became reality. As far as we know, that's not something law enforcement is examining.

Now, there's no question this hasn't been cheap, but the legislative inquiry has been mindful of the costs, and has spent far less than the governor's office. And if anyone is to blame for costs, it's those responsible for closing lanes and creating an environment in which doing something like that was considered acceptable.

This was always going to be a methodical investigation that was going to take time, if done the proper way without partisanship, as has been the case.

As Doblin noted, the committee has played a vital role, uncovering a treasure trove of documents linking this to Christie's office. Thus, it's not the time to take the exit ramp. This is the time to keep plowing forward. As Roosevelt also said, "I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life." This investigation may be difficult, but that is exactly why it's worth completing.

John Wisniewski, a Democrat, represents the 19th District. He is the state Assembly deputy speaker, chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee and co-chairman of the Legislative Select Committee on Investigation, which is overseeing the allegations of abuse of government power surrounding the closing of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge.

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