Readers peppered Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt with an array of questions Friday during The Columbian’s first live online chat.
The city budget and other community issues came up, but the bulk of queries centered on the Columbia River Crossing. A poll showed that 52 percent of the hour-long chat’s visitors were there for that reason. Visitors could be anonymous, but commenters were required to log on through Facebook, Twitter or other social media accounts, and had to give their full name to participate. Web Editor Libby Tucker moderated, and with 79 percent of people saying they would participate again, both the mayor and the paper have agreed to hold more chat sessions in the future.
Below is a snapshot of the conversation, edited slightly for length and spelling:
On the bridge and tolls
Stephen Doerk: At the State of the City address, you mentioned that you will fight to assist those of us that are forced to cross to Oregon for work by helping us pay no or reduced tolls. My question is, if the government is broke (3 weeks until shut-down again), and we are footing almost the entire bill for this bridge on the backs of the local citizens, how can you justify a subsidy or reduced tolling for us?
Leavitt: The CRC project is about mobility, accessibility and prosperity. We are planning for the future, not for yesterday. The Feds understand that continual investment in infrastructure will more quickly bring about economic recovery and jobs growth, and I agree. The CRC project requires a local share, which is … when calculated out, about 70% of 1/3 of the cost of the freeway/interchange work. If I had my calculator handy, I’d do a quick % calculation. We’ll continue to lobby for the most State and Federal $$$ we can for the project.
Raymond Smith: Seems to me that those living in Washington have already paid tolls based on Oregon state tax coming out of their paychecks. The effects of tolls are going to put an extra hardship on those already dealing with rising costs of living and gas! How much are these tolls going to be?
Leavitt: At one time, I also worked in PDX, and understand the pain of paying Oregon Income Tax. I also know the headache of waiting in traffic every morning … and that was 10 years ago! It is only going to get worse if we don’t do something about the interchanges and bridge and public transit. Those that must continue to take their own vehicle to Portland will, at this point, have to pay a toll. Otherwise, buses or light rail is an option that won’t require a toll. The draft EIS (not final by any means), indicates approximate $2-$2.50 each way during peak times (6-9 a.m., 3-6 p.m.) and lower (like $1) other times.
Mark Fecchi: A question about tolling and the answer you gave above. Is it my understanding that a toll would be charged for using any part of the freeway system in the CRC area and not only for crossing the bridge?
Leavitt: At this time, tolling is only considered at the I-5 bridge crossing. I’m fighting for some form of tolling … or contribution to the improvements … from all those Oregonians entering the improvement corridor, south of the bridge. If they use the freeway, but don’t cross the bridge, the current proposal won’t require them to contribute! Fairness for our residents!
Steve Chase: Mayor Leavitt, you donated $100 to the new “Keep Clark County Moving” PAC, or what I call the STP “Silence The People” campaign. IMO (in my opinion) that seems to be a bit unethical as Mayor you are elected to represent the citizens of Vancouver. Now you are financially supporting a PAC that is obviously meant to shut us up.
Leavitt: Yes, I believe in the project and I believe it necessary to ensure our community is set for future jobs growth and economic prosperity! I’ll put my money where my mouth is! For every person who is opposed to the project, I hear from at least two more who are tired of the process and want the Feds/State to get started on construction.
Matthew McBride: Local Vancouver citizens aren’t concerned about trucking companies in San Diego or Canada, we’re worried about feeding our families and paying our bills.
Leavitt: And so am I. That is why we MUST get this crossing and interchanges improved. We’re planning for the next 50 years of prosperity. I understand the struggles of families in this economy. I’m having a hard time keeping up with bills, too. But we can’t lose sight of our future. One positive step we’ve accomplished with the tolling matter is that there is general agreement that they won’t begin until project is finished … 2018-19 timeframe. Plenty of time for our economy to turn around!
Jamie Weiss: I’ve heard that you’ve supported allowing Vancouver residents who pay tolls to write that expense off on their federal income taxes. Is that true? What will you do to fight for that?
Leavitt: Am continuing to fight for fairness for our Commuters. We have attempted to get support from Oregon, recognizing that Clark County contributes so much to Oregon income tax. They aren’t too responsive to writing off tolls on Oregon income tax, but we’ll keep trying … count on it!
On the budget, politics and more
Randy Mueller: Mayor Leavitt, it seems local governments are “resetting” their budgets for what’s turning out to be the “new normal.” You and the council have made some tough cuts, and may have to make more. In your mind, what city services are essential and what services could still be pared back if necessary?
Leavitt: Yes, seriously tough decisions by the Vancouver City Council … but we did so with a wealth of input from our Community. Last year the City engaged our neighbors, businesses and families in a comprehensive conversation about priorities of service and expectations. Our community told the Council that really all services are important, with priority on public safety. The Council has been prioritizing public safety in face of cuts for the past decade. Did so again this past year.
Esteban Montero: Mayor Leavitt, can you comment on the difficulty of balancing sound conservative policy with the fringe Christian element trying to polarize the political dialogue?
Leavitt: The citizens of Vancouver elected me, I believe, to make decisions that are in the best interest of our future for EVERYBODY. We won’t always agree on the direction, for certain. But, I hope you all know that I’ve loved growing up here and think this is the best place to live of anywhere! I am honored to be your Mayor and will do all I can to see us move forward positively into our future!
Thom Rasmussen: Mr. Mayor, whose brilliant idea was it to run the light rail to Clark College when everyone knows it will do nothing but cause a huge amount of congestion?
Leavitt: There is a lot of activity around the Clark College area, with Marshall Center, Central Park and the college. The proposed park and ride is located immediately adjacent to the highway and will have efficient/convenient access on an off the highway. The engineers are working the design to see that our roads don’t become packed with vehicles.
Justin Stanley: Hi, Tim. Traditionally, most of the technology-oriented user groups, networks, events, etc. in the region have been, understandably, Portland-centric. Recently, however, several people (citizens, entrepreneurs, technology professionals) have started to organize independent events on our side of the river. What can/should your office do to help facilitate those efforts? Are they counter-productive, adding to the us-versus-them attitude so common in Portland/Vancouver relations?
Leavitt: The Columbia River is a link between SW Washington and the Metro Area. Our economies are intimately connected. My Office and the City of Vancouver are in the beginning stages of a robust effort to market our entire region nationally and internationally … to bring more jobs and companies. SW Washington is an important piece of the regional economy, with an advantageous tax base, land available to develop, a strong work force. … great schools and a National Park! The “us versus them” attitude doesn’t hold water in my Office. We will make much more progress for our citizens working TOGETHER, instead of against each other.
Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542 or email@example.com.