Inquirer Editorial: Sense the urgency

I want you to think I'm doing something: Christie at the DRPA in 2010.
I want you to think I'm doing something: Christie at the DRPA in 2010. (File)
Posted: August 06, 2014

Gov. Christie's apparent lack of interest in making any adjustments to the discredited leadership of the Delaware River Port Authority is at odds with his past scolding of the bistate bridge and rail agency. But it's in keeping with his long-standing failure to back up his bluster.

While the terms of New Jersey's eight DRPA commissioners expired more than a month ago - and while all of them were appointed by Christie's Democratic predecessor, Jon Corzine - the Republican governor said last week that he felt no "sense of urgency" to make his own choices to run the agency. State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D., Gloucester) and several commissioners told The Inquirer's Maddie Hanna that they had yet to discuss the subject with Christie's office.

But given that some of the commissioners have served for more than a decade, and considering the DRPA's disastrous record during that period, replacing its leaders should indeed be urgent. Gov. Corbett certainly thought so, having replaced all his appointees shortly after he took office in 2011.

The New Jersey members were among those responsible for the authority while it spent half a billion dollars on so-called economic development projects unrelated to its transportation mission - a spree that has reportedly become the focus of a federal investigation. At the same time, the agency accumulated enough debt to tie up about half of its operating budget. A 2012 report by New Jersey's state comptroller found that insiders treated the agency as their "personal ATM."

The year before, the commissioners hiked tolls on the agency's four bridges by 25 percent. More recently, the PATCO line became mired in equipment breakdowns.

Amid public consternation over toll-free travel and other DRPA perks in 2010, Christie made a spectacle of descending on Camden to demand reform and give the agency's chief executive, John Matheussen, a stern talking-to. And yet Matheussen stayed in his post until this year, when Christie nominated him to a state Superior Court judgeship. While Matheussen awaited this promotion, the DRPA's reckless spending and soaking of the commuters continued apace.

So why, besides his obvious reasons for wariness around bridges, doesn't Christie seem to care about any of this? Montclair State University political scientist Brigid Harrison suggests the governor has made a calculated decision to cede the DRPA to the South Jersey Democratic machine. A spokesman for regional power broker George Norcross (a former owner of The Inquirer's parent company) says that's "silly." He will be proven right as soon as Christie appoints a slate of independent outsiders to lead the DRPA.

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