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DOT speaks out in Senate's letter investigation

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RALEIGH -- A Department of Transportation executive attempted to clear up confusion Wednesday surrounding two false letters urging lawmakers to put funding for two highway toll road projects on the fast track.

The DOT told lawmakers how the mistake happened and made it clear they do not want to move forward with the projects until 2013.

Senators launched an investigation to figure out how two letters with false information could have gotten in their hands.

The letters sought to move forward this year with the Garden State Parkway in Gaston County and the Mid-Currituck Bridge on the coast.

"It was his signature on the letter, or what we thought to be his signature when it was presented to members," expressed republican Sen. Tom Apodaca. "So that's the real crux of this inquiry at this point, who signed the letter and why."

NCDOT Chief Operating Officer Jim Trogdon, who's signatures are on the letters, was participating in a military training exercise and unreachable when the misunderstanding happened. Trogdon told lawmakers Gov. Bev Perdue's advisor Pryor Gibson insisted having his signature on the letters.

"The document was originally signed by the deputy secretary for me, or it was proposed to be signed by her for me, however Gibson stated that it had to come from my signature," Trogdon explained to the senators.

Under a tight deadline from Gibson, Trogdon's staff used his electronic signature on the documents.

"None of our staff had any desire or indication that they were trying to mislead anyone," said Trogdon. "They thought it was factual based on its face value."

When Trogdon realized his position on the projects had been changed, he recalled the letters. He's not sure if Gibson was trying to pull a fast one.

"I have no idea on individual's motivations," reflected Trogdon.

Sen. Martin Nesbitt maintains senators always wanted to wait until next year to shell out $63 million for the projects.

"Implied that we were trying to mislead the members into thinking that they needed to do the money now, that was simply not the case," said Martin Nesbitt, a Democrat from Buncombe County.

Despite the confusion, Trogdon believes everyone learned an important lesson.

"Speed cannot take priority over accuracy," said Trogdon. "So if you cannot verify the accuracy, you must delay the implementation."

On Thursday morning, state senators expect to hear from Gov. Perdue's advisor Gibson.

They may also ask other DOT representative to address the situation.

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