Port Authority commissioners should select its executive director and stand up to the governors of New York and New Jersey if they disagree on policy, academics and analysts told a special committee.
The oversight panel, created in February in response to a scandal involving lane closings at the George Washington Bridge by allies of New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie, has vowed to fix the 93-year-old transportation agency.
“The Port Authority can be fixed and should be fixed,” said Martin Robins, a former Port Authority planning director and founder of the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
The authority runs the New York City area’s three major airports, four bridges, a bus terminal, commuter rail, two tunnels, ports and the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan. Its operations have been under scrutiny since September when David Wildstein, an official charged with carrying out Christie’s agenda, shut down lanes in Fort Lee, whose mayor didn’t endorse the governor’s re-election.
Authority Chairman David Samson, appointed by Christie, resigned last month. Wildstein and Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni, another Christie appointee, also quit.
Other recommendations by the panel, which met today at authority offices in Manhattan, include limiting commissioners to one six-year term, conducting a national search for the next executive director, eliminating gubernatorial pet projects and subjecting the agency to open records and public-meeting laws.
Commissioners also heard from Robert Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association; Mitchell Moss, a professor of urban policy and planning and director at the Rudin Center for Transportation at New York University; Carol Kellermann, President of the Citizens Budget Commission; and Jameson Doig, a government professor at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire and author of “Empire on the Hudson,” a 2002 history of the agency.
Insulating the authority from political interference has always been difficult, said Scott Rechler, Port Authority vice chairman and chairman of the oversight committee.
Rechler said the agency has been afflicted by a “creeping dysfunction” and wouldn’t let the crisis go to waste. Commissioners will take up the recommendations in coming months.
“Both governors recognize that it’s critical to reform the port,” Rechler said. “They recognize how important this agency is to the region.”
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