Franco Pietropaoloa, a barber in downtown Fort Lee for 55 years, says a fellow hair clipper, now dead, often recalled that, at its opening, bridge operators promised that once its construction was paid off, crossing the George Washington would be a free trip.
"Now the bridge is $13. It's a disgrace," Pietropaoloa said.
When the bridge was under construction, local officials and developers foresaw a land boom for what was then still a town with farms and some unpaved roads. The borough took on heavy debts to pay for new streets and pipes. But the Great Depression erased those hopes and Fort Lee spent the 1950s in receivership. Development kicked in only in the 1960s, when builders began putting up apartment towers for New York commuters.
But once Fort Lee got its bridge and figured out how to leverage its location, life became governed by the incessant thrum of its traffic. That explains much about the reaction here to the allegations of political mischief.
"The tie-up was horrific," said Suzanne Miller, a retired accountant sipping her coffee in a bakery blocks from the bridge Thursday. She recalled the days in September when Christie allies ordered entry lanes to the span closed suddenly. A drive from home to the shop three blocks away that would normally take a minute took 20.
Miller noted that she voted for Christie in November because he seemed like somebody who got things done. "That's what I liked about him. He didn't take too much B.S. He told it like it was. I thought he was different."
Now, though, reading news accounts of how the traffic slowed an ambulance crew from reaching a 91-year-old woman who later died, she is doubtful, thinking about her own 96-year-old mother in town. "I'm not amused."
"It's wacko. I've never seen anything like it," said Melissa Kelly, a singer who lives in Fort Lee, recalling how a house guest was forced to walk across the nearly mile-long bridge to Manhattan because of the frozen traffic. "Who are these people? Who are they? Why do they do these crazy things?"
But others took Christie at his word Thursday when he apologized and said he had no knowledge of his aide's misdoings. They chalked it up to politics, and some pointed out that life here has long meant complaining about traffic, no matter whose fault it is. Most recently, some residents have complained mightily about a pair of 47-story glass towers going up just south of the bridge, and the traffic the new residents will add to the borough's roads.
"This is what Fort Lee is going to become more and more, and you have to get used to that," said Susan Boni, the owner of the Frames of Mine shop, within sight of the bridge, who lived in the town for 25 years.
Boni applauded Christie's apology Thursday, accepting it as a sign of leadership and responsibility, and felt ready to move on. Then she heard that he was planning to come to the borough to deliver his apology personally and started imagining the traffic that, hours later, true to her prediction, locked up borough streets.
"I heard this morning that he's coming to Fort Lee and I thought, ugh, there goes my day."
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