The author of a history of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said the bi-state agency has never experienced a controversy as mammoth as the so-called Bridgegate scandal.
"No, I've never seen anything as large or important as this one," said Jameson Doig, who published "Empire on the Hudson" in 2001.
"Basically, it's been a problem since 2010, when [New Jersey Gov. Chris] Christie strongly increased the patronage to about 50 to 60 employees where it used to be four or five," said Dartmouth College government professor Doig, speaking by phone from New Hampshire.
Bridgegate involved the Port Authority in September closing two of the three access lanes that connect Fort Lee, N.J. to the George Washington Bridge. Emails subpoenaed by New Jersey lawmakers revealed an effort by Port Authority and high-ranking Christie officials to retaliate against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for not endorsing Christie for re-election.
The scandal widened in the past week as Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer accused Lieutenant Gov. Kim Guadagno of threatening to withhold Hurricane Sandy reimbursement money if Zimmer didn't back a waterfront redevelopment project in that city that Christie favored. Guadagno denied the accusation.
In the aftermath, David Wildstein resigned as the Port Authority's director of interstate capital projects, and Christie fired chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly. "It's probably fair to say regarding Mr. Wildstein that never in his mind did he think it would cause such a big furor. He probably just wanted to send a message to the mayor of Fort Lee," said Doig.
According to Doig, the scandal should not affect the authority's standing in the capital markets. Moody's Investors Service rates the Port Authority Aa3, while Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor's rate them an equivalent AA-minus.
"Their basic structure is strong," he said.
Of more concern to the agency, according to Doig, is a lawsuit in federal court by the New York and New Jersey chapters of the American Automobile Association challenging the use of toll revenue to pay for World Trade Center project overruns.