The man sitting rapt in the front row of the Vancouver mayoral debates last night was wearing an American flag hat and a fannypack and applauded voraciously whenever the two mayoral hopefuls said "God bless" anything. Oh, Vancouver.

But while the first debate between Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard and challenger Tim Leavitt was a bit... different than Portland's political scene and Pollard is famous for once smashing a Portland-themed Starbucks mug to demonstrate his town's independence from our fair city, the very close mayoral race in America's Vancouver could have a big impact on an important Portland issue. As I predicted over the summer, the key issue in the race has turned out tolling on the new Columbia River Crossing bridge.

Check out Leavitt's campaign literature:


Don't rejoice yet, anti-CRC activists. Leavitt stumps that he proudly voted for a 12-lane bridge while on the C-Tran board. Mayor Pollard is also in favor of as big a bridge as we can get to accommodate the third of Vancouver's population who commute over the river.

The issue that separates the two politically centrist, pro-business candidates is their stance on tolling the CRC. Leavitt has taken the politically genius and financially absurd stance that the CRC should be built with absolutely no tolling. Although Vancouver's mayor won't make the final decision on tolling the bridge regardless of who wins, the "no toll" rallying cry is like honey from heaven to Vancouver's daily commuters.

Royce Pollard opines, front, while Tim Leavitt gets ponderous.
  • Royce Pollard opines, front, while Tim Leavitt gets ponderous.
Pollard, like almost every other planner and politician involved in the bridge project, says, "No bridge, no tolls." The federal and state governments just aren't going to pony up $4.2 billion to build a bridge that is used primarily by local commuters.

But signs for Leavitt are in numerous downtown windows while I didn't spot a single sign for Pollard in downtown stores last night. And, embarrassingly, Pollard came in second during the city's mayoral primary election. During last night's debate, Leavitt, who proudly described Vancouver as "the second largest city in the Portland metro area," said that the project should be trimmed down to a point where it's cheap enough to not rely on tolls for funding. When I pointed out that tolls aren't just to cover the cost of the bridge but to incentivize public transit use and carpooling, Leavitt replied that heavy traffic on an eight lane or 10 lane bridge would create enough of an incentive to use transit. "If we par down the scale of the project, it's going to be a de facto bottleneck still. If you reduce the scale of the project, the need for tolls for both environmental and financial purposes diminishes," said Leavitt.

Right, so we should get the state and federal government to throw $2-3 billion into building a new Interstate bridge that will still be traffic-clogged. That's Leavitt's bold new idea for Vancouver.

Both Metro Council President David Bragdon and Mayor Adams think the idea of not tolling the new bridge, assuming it ever gets built, is out of the question. "Reducing the cost of the overall project could reduce the amount of the tolls. If you want to have a project, you're going to need tolls," says Bragdon. "There's going to be some form of local participation and that participation is likely going to be tolls."