Leavitt urges tolling relief for some drivers

New I-5 bridge should include 'maximum consideration' for commuters

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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Tim Leavitt letter about tolling

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Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt on Tuesday sent a letter to state transportation officials, asking them to consider tolling relief for certain categories of drivers.

The current plan for the $3.5 billion Columbia River Crossing includes tolling the replacement Interstate 5 Bridge.

The project would also rebuild five miles of freeway and extend light rail into Vancouver.

In a letter to Dan O'Neal and Pat Egan, chairmen of the Washington State Transportation Commission and Oregon State Transportation Commission, respectively, Leavitt asks for a tolling system that would "offer maximum consideration to the daily commuter from SW Washington."

While it's too soon to know tolling details, one official said Tuesday that in the past, transportation commission members have not granted tolling relief because it shifts the burden onto other drivers.

Leavitt argued in the letter that local commuters deserve special consideration.

"It is readily understood at the completion of the CRC project, vehicle travel times and safety will improve, and alternative modes of mobility (bus, carpool, vanpool, light rail) will too be more effective means for commuting now and far into the future," Leavitt wrote. "Yet, it is inarguable that at the moment of implementation of tolling, there will be an immediate impact and a direct hardship to the pocketbooks of the daily commuters leaving SW Washington to jobs located south of the Columbia River."

Leavitt suggested "relief from tolling for carpools and vanpools" (three or more passengers) and relief for commuters "who demonstrate employment in Oregon and with income that falls within federally defined levels of poverty."

He also suggested a discount for drivers who buy a "Good to Go!" card for Washington's electronic tolling system, which drivers use on the state Highway 520 bridge in Seattle and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

As a final suggestion, Leavitt said there should be a maximum toll charged per day, "in consideration of regional businesses that must complete numerous trips across the I-5 bridge on a daily basis."

He also wrote that he opposed early implementation of tolling.

Reema Griffith, executive director of the Washington State Transportation Commission, said she reviewed Leavitt's letter and said the commission will appreciate the input. There's plenty of time for public input, she said, given that funding for the Columbia River Crossing hasn't been secured.

"On the CRC, we don't even know how (tolling) is going to play out," she said.

She said there's an assumption the "Good to Go!" card would be used on I-5. Oregon doesn't have an electronic tolling system.

On the 520 bridge in Seattle, only buses are exempt from tolls, and that was because of a federal funding requirement, Griffith said. Buses aren't exempt on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and rider fares were increased to cover the cost.

Federal funding for the Interstate 5 bridge, if approved, could come with restrictions, Griffith said.

She said policies evolve, but the commission's policy has been to not allow exemptions. Tolling facilities are a zero sum game, she said. To hit revenue targets, the cost must be shared by users. For every free or discounted ride, other users pay more, she said.

Leavitt said Tuesday he'd been planning to write the letter for some time.

Leavitt, 42, will announce Feb. 14 whether he plans to seek a second four-year term.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.