The New Jersey Senate and Assembly are merging efforts to investigate the unannounced closure of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in September, citing a possible abuse of power by the Christie administration.

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Democratic leaders announced Tuesday that they will combine two existing panels into one, 12-member supercommittee.

"We have made progress in learning what happened with this threat to public safety and abuse of power, but many questions remain unanswered," said Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville), who will co-chair the new committee. "I look forward to cooperation and responsiveness from everyone involved in this bipartisan inquiry to get the answers New Jerseyans need."

The creation of the panel requires full legislative approval, after which the first hearing will be scheduled. The committee will have subpoena power and will use the special counsel already brought on by the Assembly: former Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar, who helped convict former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich of corruption.

"This is the optimal approach to ensuring the people of New Jersey get the answers they need to these questions about the abuse of government power," said Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto (D-Secaucus). "We are also relying strongly on the keen advice of our special counsel to streamline the legislative investigations, and make clear to everyone that we expect full cooperation and responsiveness as this inquiry proceeds."

The committee will be made up of eight Assembly members and four Senators. Wisniewski's co-chair will be Senate Minority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck).

"The questions concerning the potential abuse of power at the highest levels of government have continued to mount," Weinberg said. "Both houses of the legislature have recognized the need to conduct an examination of these very serious matters."

The 20 subpoenas issued last week by the Assembly's investigatory committee remain pending. Those subpoenas seek documents and other materials by Feb. 3.

This committee is not expected to immediately investigate another scandal, sparked by Democratic Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer's claims that Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno threatened to hold back Sandy relief money unless Zimmer approved a development project important to Christie.

Guadagno has adamantly denied the allegation, but Zimmer is standing by her story.