Help Port Authority regain its integrity

How do we fix this messed-up agency?

You have to start somewhere. Wednesday Port Authority Board Chairman David Samson apologized to the public on behalf of the agency for the “inconvenience caused to our travelers.”

But wait. Inconvenience?

He was speaking about the massive four-day traffic jam inflicted last fall on drivers trying to reach the George Washington Bridge. Kids were stuck on school buses for hours. Ambulances couldn’t reach Manhattan hospitals. Why? Because the bistate Port Authority, it seems, had closed off two access lanes to the bridge as a crazy act of political retribution against the mayor of Fort Lee.

So now: How do we fix this messed-up agency?

Its troubles run deep. For decades, governors on both sides of the Hudson have called it dysfunctional — and the Bridgegate scandal makes that description sound tame.

But there is cause for encouragement.

The Port Authority board of directors has established a special oversight committee to look at lessons to be learned from the scandal. It met Wednesday for the first time.

Some unflinching advice about returning the agency to an institution known for its professionalism is mandatory.

And yes, a few more heads may need to roll. The New Jersey Legislature is looking into who decided to use the authority as a blunt political instrument. Meanwhile, the U.S. attorney’s office is investigating. But while healthy, those inquiries don’t quite touch on the fundamental questions.

Today the authority is run by two competing camps — headed either by appointees of the New York governor or the New Jersey governor. Patronage has been rife, especially during New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s tenure. Projects are often regarded less as public works that are vital to both states than as single-state boondoggles.

Tired of the games, Gov. Andrew Cuomo this year decided to make improvements to the authority’s JFK and LaGuardia airports without the authority’s help.

Maybe such pitfalls are inevitable. But for decades after its founding in 1921, the authority performed competently and with distinction. So now that it has finally hit bottom, where does it go to get its professionalism back?

The Editorial Board