Bob Somerby has been doing yeoman's work on the Fort Lee lane closures, pointing out that some liberal pundits have gotten a little too far over their skis on the scandal. I'd say that's fair. However, he also takes issue with the allegation that the "traffic study" offered up as the reason for the closings was merely a pretense made up after the fact. Technically, he's right: there's plenty of evidence that bridge authorities talked about the study before the lanes were closed. But that doesn't mean the study wasn't a pretense, only that it was a pretense made up prior to the closures. There's a ton of evidence suggesting that this supposed study was never anything more than a tissue-thin charade:
- Most traffic studies don't involve actually doing anything to traffic: "Traffic engineers will assess the existing flow by counting cars....Then they'll take standard calculations for what the proposed change would introduce, and plug them into formulas provided by the Institute of Transportation Engineers. It's a pretty automated procedure, with little impact on traffic."
- If traffic is affected, it's usually for a single day, not multiple days.
- Yes, data was being collected while the lanes were shut down. However, as Somerby points out, it was tolls data. This is collected every day automatically. Nothing special was done during the Fort Lee lane closures.
- No serious planning document has been produced. When the general manager of the bridge was asked if "traffic experts or engineers" had been consulted about the plan, he replied, "We had talked about gathering data...." That was it. This is hardly the hallmark of a genuine study.
- Several managers at the Port Authority were flummoxed about what this study was all about. They asked why it was being done, and apparently received no credible answers.
- A few weeks before lane shutdowns, one of Chris Christie's senior aides, Bridget Anne Kelly, gleefully emailed David Wildstein, a top Christie executive at the Port Authority, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." This is obviously damning. In the first place, it doesn't seem likely that a Christie aide would have any role to play in a legitimate traffic study. And if she did, she certainly wouldn't take a tone like that.
Put all this together, and it's hardly likely that the traffic study was ever genuine. The folks involved obviously knew that they needed a public story, and so they made one up. I agree that everyone should get their tenses right on this, but at this point I think it's going too far to remain agnostic about whether the Fort Lee lane closures were ever part of a legitimate traffic study. If they were, we'd know it by now.