Democratic leaders in the New Jersey Legislature have decided to combine the Assembly and Senate committees created last week to investigate the George Washington Bridge scandal.

A single investigatory committee is the optimal way to move forward, said Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto. "It's being mindful of the costs and how to streamline this, one special counsel," he said Tuesday.

The announcement of the decision to have a combined panel was made a short time before Gov. Chris Christie's inauguration because that's when the final details were worked out, said Senate President Steve Sweeney.

"This isn't a thumb in the eye to the governor," said Sweeney, D-Gloucester. "This is about the houses coming together, which clearly we wanted to do from the beginning, and it was just finding a way to do it."

The Legislature will have to approve a new resolution to authorize the combined committee. The subpoenas already issued by the Assembly panel will remain in force, said Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who had been leading the investigation into the four-day lane closures on the bridge in September.

Emails indicate the closures, which resulted in massive traffic gridlock, were apparently political payback orchestrated from within Christie's office. The governor, who has said he knew nothing about the plot, has fired his assistant chief of staff for lying to him about her part in what's become known as Bridgegate.

Combining the committees to continue the investigation has in the works for many days, according to Wisniewski. And the reshaped panel will utilize the special counsel the Assembly panel appointed.

"The ability for both houses to work cooperatively and share the resources and share the resources of Reid Schar makes our work much more efficient and eliminates any questions about two houses competing," said Wisniewski, D-Middlesex. "There's no competition. We're working in unison."

The new panel will be co-chaired by Wisniewski and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen.