By Melissa Hayes, The Record (Hackensack, N.J.)
TRENTON, N.J. — The Port Authority police officer whose involvement in the lane closures at the George Washington Bridge has come under question in recent days, suggested rerouting local traffic toward the closures on the first day of the gridlock in September, according to a document released Tuesday.
Port Authority Police Lt. Thomas “Chip” Michaels sent a text message to Fort Lee (N.J.) Police Chief Keith Bendul in which he proposed sending westbound traffic from Hudson Terrace to Center Avenue. In effect, that move would have forced traffic to pass by the lane closures to reach Center Avenue, which provides another access to the bridge. He ended the message with, “Papd covers lemoine ave. Thoughts?”
Bendul responded, “Can’t center ave gridlocked. Suggestion open up 3 toll lanes,” according to the document The Record received Tuesday through an Open Public Records Act request.
The closures cost the region $100,000 in economic activity, according to a report prepared by the Port Authority and obtained by The Record on Tuesday.
Michaels also exchanged texts with David Wildstein, a former Port Authority official appointed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie who carried out the lane closures creating traffic jams for parts of five days.
The new document comes after a lawmaker leading the legislative inquiry into the traffic jams said the committee may need to call Michaels to answer questions.
The Democratic leaders of the New Jersey Select Committee on Investigation on Tuesday said they plan to continue pursuing documents from Bill Stepien, Christie’s two-time campaign manager, and Bridget Anne Kelly, the deputy chief of staff Christie fired after she sent the now infamous email to Wildstein, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” Kelly and Stepien have invoked their constitutional right to protect themselves against self-incrimination.
The legislative panel voted along party lines last week to find that argument “invalid” and deemed the documents Stepien and Kelly possess as critical to their investigation.
State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) who heads the committee with Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) said the text message between Michaels and the Fort Lee police chief raises additional questions about Michaels’ involvement and knowledge of the lane closures.
“These are all questions that need to be answered when these people appear before our committee,” she said.