Leavitt assailed for toll position

Mayor says he's just bowing to reality in call to share burden

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At Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt’s first public meeting since announcing a change in his position on tolling across a new Interstate 5 bridge, a couple dozen impassioned critics denounced his move Monday night.

Holding signs that said simply “No Tolls” in stark white on black, they sat in the city council chambers, applauding sometimes, clucking and hissing at some points and some ultimately walking out when Leavitt read a statement defending his views.

“He’s out of the closet, or should I say, out of the toll booth,” said David Madore, co-chairman of notolls.com, a political action group formed to fight light rail and tolls as part of the Columbia River Crossing project. “He was elected on a no-tolls platform and he reversed his position as soon as he was elected.”

Leavitt campaigned last year on a platform that he would fight tolling. But last Friday he had a tolling option of his own in mind: A form of point-access tolling that assessed a fee for any single-occupant vehicle that enters the corridor would help take the burden off interstate commuters, he said in a meeting of bridge project sponsors in Vancouver.

“I know they’re probably frustrated with how my position has adapted, coming to the conclusion that battling against tolls is not winnable,” Leavitt said. “But we’ve got to work within the parameters we have.”

That did not sit well with the protesters, who said the idea of tolling residents who are already struggling to get by is unconscionable.

“Our votes were stolen, basically,” said Josephine Wentel, co-chairwoman of the notolls.com group. “I actually helped him … because he campaigned for no tolls.”

Numerous political candidates turned out to speak against tolls, including John Jenkins, who is running against Councilor Bart Hansen; Clark County Commissioner candidate Alan Svehaug; State Representative 17th District Position 1 candidate Brian Peck; and State Representative District 49 Position 2 candidate Craig Riley.

One person, Mark Feichtinger of Stoel Rives LLP attorneys in downtown Vancouver, said his firm relies on having a smoothly flowing I-5 corridor from California northwards. He praised any work that could be done to keep the project moving along.

“Thank you for your persistent leadership,” he said. “Your investment in the bridge means tremendous leverage in jobs.”

Stewart Kent, co-chairman of Citizens for Sensible Values of Clark County, said there’s still other options that could be explored. He was “incensed” at Leavitt for changing his stance.

“We just think tolls is not the answer,” Kent said. “We shouldn’t build the bridge, because it doesn’t have the money.”

Leavitt said his new view is more of a defeat than a change.

“I could continue to protest — to throw up my arms and stomp out of the room, as some of my detractors have insisted would be the only proper course,” he said, reading from a statement. “But whether or not I protest, the bridge will go on and tolls will happen.”