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G.W. Bridge probe needs extension

The Assembly must approve subpoena power past Jan. 14. Look away, some Democrats are saying.

TRENTON The state investigation into why George Washington Bridge approach lanes were suddenly blocked will end next month unless the New Jersey Assembly renews subpoena power for the lawmaker leading the probe.

Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D., Middlesex) said he would file paperwork for the Assembly to vote on extending his ability to subpoena documents and employees of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

His subpoena power expires at the end of the session Jan. 14.

The Port Authority's inspector general and a federal agency also are looking into the matter.

Democrats suspect two local-access lanes were closed to punish Fort Lee's mayor for refusing to endorse Gov. Christie in November's election. Christie has denied it.

The unannounced closings caused traffic backups that lasted hours on streets in Fort Lee, where the mouth of the bridge is.

The lanes were ordered reopened after four days by the executive director of the authority, who is an appointee of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Christie's top two appointees at the bistate agency have said the lanes were closed for a traffic study, and Christie has said repeatedly he does not doubt their explanation. Both deputies have resigned.

Wisniewski was given subpoena power early this year to investigate the authority's finances. A federal audit had found a lack of transparency, including what Democrats complained was insufficient public input before raising tolls.

Wisniewski needs 41 votes to continue. The chamber has 48 Democrats and 32 Republicans.

Incoming Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D., Hudson) did not return calls for comment Friday and Monday.

Two powerful Democrats have spoken out recently in support of the governor or against the investigation.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) defended his Republican ally last week, saying "no one can possibly imagine that the governor ordered this."

His remark followed a comment by influential South Jersey Democrat George E. Norcross III, who told the Washington Post that Democrats should be "focusing on their own profile" rather than the lane closures. (Norcross is a co-owner of The Inquirer.)

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D., W.Va.) has asked the U.S. transportation secretary to investigate.

The former authority officials at the center of the controversy, David Wildstein and Bill Baroni, have until Monday to turn over documents and e-mails subpoenaed by Wisniewski. They were granted an extension after hiring lawyers. Five other authority officials complied with similar subpoenas Friday.

Wisniewski said he was reviewing the material. He has not said what the documents reveal.