Now Playing:



Tolls Still A Hot Issue Six Months After Vancouver Election

Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt has been in office a little more than six months. Many people say he got that post in part because of his opposition to tolls on the proposed new I-5 bridge.

But Leavitt’s position has changed. Amelia Templeton takes a look at the Mayor’s evolution on the issue since taking office.

The mayor’s job in Vancouver is a part-time position so Tim Leavitt hasn’t quit his day job. If you can’t reach Leavitt at City Hall, you might catch him at PBS Engineering and Enviornmental, where he also works as Director of Engineering Services.

Tim Leavitt: “Between the mayor’s job and my actual professional job that pays me a salary to pay my bills, I am working two full time jobs.”

Mayor Leavitt took office in November after ousting incumbent Royce Pollard, who’d been mayor for six terms. It was the most expensive race ever for the position.

Leavitt promised a fresh approach. And he promised to oppose tolls on the Columbia River crossing. 

Tim Leavitt: “I told the citizens of our community during the election last year that I would do everything I can to fight for a project that didn’t have tolls.

Candidate Leavitt’s position on tolling played well with voters last year. But in a blog post and a series of town hall meetings last month, Mayor Leavitt told the people of Vancouver he could no longer oppose tolling.

Leavitt says he was getting nowhere.

Tim Leavitt: “It’s become painfully apparent that there really is not another effective means for paying for this $3.6 million project at a local level. I want to continue to be productive in the conversation and to the extent that I can influence the local financing piece of this, I want to do that.”

The Washington State Legislature will have to authorize any future toll and the State Transportation Commission is in charge of setting rates. But Leavitt is part of a group of local officials making recommendations on how to move the bridge project forward.

The group, called the project sponsor’s council, recently agreed to recommend a 10 lane bridge. With Leavitt’s change in position, no one else in the council is vocally opposed to tolls.

Brian Peck owns a gas station in Vancouver. He’s also running for the state legislature, and opposes tolls. Peck isn’t thrilled with the way Leavitt has handled the tolling situation.

But he says the real problem is everybody else on the project sponsors council.

Brian Peck: “There aren’t any conservatives in the room. Or not nearly enough to make a difference.”

Mayor Leavitt says he’s done what he promised. And he’s unapologetic about his change in position.

Tim Leavitt: “There are folks that have expressed frustration that clearly misunderstood the issue altogether, that somehow believed that I was going to ensure there  were no tolls on the bridge.”

Folks have expressed frustration. They’ve protested at town hall meetings and in editorials in The Columbian Newspaper.

Former Mayor Royce Pollard says Leavitt’s explanation of his switch doesn’t make sense. He says Leavitt has been on the inside of conversations about the bridge for years. 

Royce Pollard: “Mr. Leavitt was on the Council for seven years. He knew exactly what was going on. What the conditions were. And what had to be done.  Has to live with that and figure out how to weasel his way out of it.”

Amelia Templeton / OPB

David Madore is co-chair of the Political Action Committee The group opposes tolls and light rail as part of the I-5 bridge.

It recently put together a video attacking Leavitt’s change in position. But Madore says Leavitt was never a very convincing opponent of tolls, even before he took office.

David Madore: “I would like to have somebody show me where he has actually said or done something to oppose tolls other than tell the people who are voting for him he opposes tolls.”

Mayor Leavitt says in addition to the critics, he’s heard from plenty of people who appreciate his pragmatic decision.

Ginger Metcalf represents the Vancouver business association Identity Clark County. 

Ginger Metcalf: “To have Mayor Leavitt on board with the entire project is really grand. It matters because without tolling we won’t have a project.”

Advocates say tolls will convince some people to find alternate routes and cut back on congestion on the bridge. And they say it will help the states and federal government reduce the debt associated with building the new bridge.

Tim Leavitt’s term in office ends in 2013. Construction on the new bridge over the Columbia could start that year, if the project stays on track.