- Associated Press - Thursday, June 12, 2014

FORT LEE, N.J. (AP) - The George Washington Bridge, associated most recently with a political scandal, became a symbol of frustration and gridlock Thursday as traffic stalled in New Jersey and New York following an early-morning fatal crash.

Two tractor-trailers heading east crashed shortly after 2 a.m. on the bi-level bridge’s upper deck, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey spokesman Rudy King said.

Joao Daponta, 59, of North Plainfield, N.J., was driving the rear truck, said Port Authority of New York and New Jersey spokesman Joe Pentangelo, and died when the vehicle became wedged under the other truck’s trailer. The driver in the lead truck was emotionally shaken and was taken to a hospital for evaluation of minor injuries, said Port Authority Police Capt. Ron Shindel.

The second driver’s name was not immediately released and the cause of the crash remained under investigation.

Officials reopened one eastbound upper lane around 6 a.m., but the remaining lanes were closed for more than nine hours until officials had removed the victim’s body and the trucks by 11:45 a.m. The cleanup was delayed because special equipment was needed to separate the trucks, Shindel said.

Cars crawled along the bridge’s lower level into New York while vehicles could enter New Jersey by the bridge’s upper and lower westbound lanes. Trucks and buses, however, have been banned from the lower level since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

A ripple effect of delays followed, with motorists inching along for miles around as they sought alternate routes into and out of the city.

The accident came just days before the Port Authority will close the George Washington Bridge’s three upper level lanes for 12 weeks during overnight hours for construction, beginning June 16.

The George Washington Bridge is one of the busiest bridges in the world, crossed by more than 100 million vehicles a year.

It has been at the center of a political scandal involving New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whose aides ordered lanes to the bridge closed as a way of causing traffic jams in Fort Lee, apparently in an attempt to punish its mayor.

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