Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Leavitt Challenges Tolling on New Bridge

As reported by The Columbian over the weekend, the I-5 Bridge Committee met last Friday to discuss tolls.

What The Columbian didn't report was the result of that meeting.

Both I and Clark County Commissioner Steve Stuart expressed strong reservations about various nuances of tolling the proposed I-5 and the existing I-205 bridges.

I have been steadfast in my opposition to placing the burden of financing a federal bridge project on the backs of Vancouver/Clark County commuters. Who is looking out for the hard working families, mothers and fathers, of our community…by even considering a $6 toll each way?

In 2008, when the Vancouver City Council passed a resolution supporting the new bridge crossing, I argued for the removal of support for tolling from the council resolution. We need to do everything possible to secure better funding sources from federal and state governments, before we even consider tolls. Otherwise, tolls will end up being our primary funding source --while federal and state monies are mere supplements to this tax on the people.

I won the support of all of the councilmembers, except the incumbent mayor, who voted to keep tolling in the language. Which of course he has to do, given that he has been trumpeting tolls throughout the process, going so far as to tell other members of the project sponsor council to "get over it" and accept tolling.

But tolling cannot be a foregone conclusion. The incumbent mayor has been pressing for tolls for years now, without making any progress to create good jobs that will keep commuters on this side of the river. We have 60,000+ residents that are forced to commute to Oregon for their jobs -- not by choice, but by necessity. These folks pay Oregon income tax, pay for parking, gas, etc. to commute, and now are going to be asked to pay an additional tax -- potentially a $6 toll each way to get to that job in Oregon. How is that acceptable?

I've lived in Vancouver for nearly 30 years and have been a city councilmember since 2003. It's representation like this that has led me to run for Mayor, to bring new leadership to help move our city forward. Over the long Memorial Day weekend, I began "doorbelling" in the community, to talk directly with voters about issues that are important to them. Not a single person I have spoken with at the doorstep has indicated to me a willingness or interest in paying tolls on a new bridge. Many of our families are struggling simply to pay routine bills -- with one spouse or other family members having lost their job, this added expense is something they simply can't support.

The estimated cost of the new bridge/interchange project is $4.1 billion. Congressional representatives from our region are not optimistic about the federal government stepping forward to pay the lion's share of the improvement of this federal asset -- resulting in the need for both Washington and Oregon to come up with a significant share of the cost. We need to stand firm and stand up for our citizens who are doing everything they can just to get by. Federal bailouts in other sectors continue -- we need a bailout of this project -- it's just unacceptable not to push the federal government to step up for a project of such international significance as the economic artery of the entire west coast of America.