Issaquah's biggest problems are typical of a growing suburb locked between other growing suburbs: traffic, traffic and more traffic. In a city that...

Share story

Issaquah’s biggest problems are typical of a growing suburb locked between other growing suburbs: traffic, traffic and more traffic.

In a city that has debated for 10 years whether to build a 1.2-mile bypass around its downtown, it’s no surprise that transportation has surfaced as the core issue for the two candidates running for mayor.

What’s interesting is how they would alleviate the congestion.

Mayor Ava Frisinger, who is seeking a third term, has recommended the city continue to study the controversial $40 million Southeast Bypass as a way to move traffic off clogged downtown streets.

Her opponent, City Councilman Hank Thomas, wants the city to improve its facilities to “squeeze every last drop” out of its infrastructure. A critic of the Southeast Bypass, Thomas tried this summer to kill the project and stop work on the final environmental report, saying the bypass would do more harm than good and that residents were “sick and tired” of wasting money to fund more studies.

So far, the city has spent $4.2 million examining the bypass.

Ava Frisinger, 61

Occupation: Mayor of Issaquah

Personal: Married; two children

Background: Land-use planning consultant for Issaquah and Seattle before becoming mayor in 1998; formerly an English teacher

Top three endorsements: King County Democrats; King County Executive Ron Sims; County Councilman David Irons

Campaign Web site:

Hank Thomas, 61

Occupation: Retired; owns a small company that makes soup mixes and almond and peanut brittle

Personal: Married to second wife; three children from first marriage

Background: Former engineer for Boeing

Top three endorsements: King County Labor Council, AFL-CIO; Sierra Club; Washington Conservation Voters

Campaign Web site:

Although the project was spared the ax by the council and continues to chug along — the final environmental report is due in the spring — both candidates say they will fight, in their respective ways, to ease rush-hour gridlock. They also have other ideas on how to help shape Issaquah’s future.

Here’s a look at the two candidates running for the $48,000-a-year job.

Ava Frisinger

Frisinger said she wants to “continue the very high-quality work” she has done as mayor since 1998. Her accomplishments, she said, include obtaining grants for transportation projects and bringing more affordable housing to the city by giving developers incentives, such as waiving certain permit fees, to set aside a percentage of homes for lower-income residents.

Over the past eight years, Frisinger said, she has developed relationships with other governments that have generated “substantial amounts” of funding for Issaquah. She pointed to a recent grant of $1.5 million the city got from the state.

That money, she said, was used to reduce the $3.6 million bond debt voters approved last year to fund the Intelligent Transportation System, technology that uses fiber optics to synchronize traffic lights and improve the flow of traffic.

She said it’s critical that the council study the final environmental report on the Southeast Bypass before making a decision. An avid supporter of public transportation, Frisinger said she believes the city needs to do something — whether it’s a bypass or something else — “to relieve the traffic that is choking the historic center of our community.”

She sees her role as chief executive officer of the city, she said.

“I’m the person who’s held accountable — ultimately — for the working of all the departments. I set the expectation for city employees that people will work well with one another,” she said.

The mayor’s other major function is to act as the translator between staff and policymakers, she said.

Although Frisinger often makes recommendations to the council, “It’s not my job to have influence over them. I’m careful not to blur the line between the executive and legislative branch.

“I would be acting inappropriately in this role if I started arguing with them — even though I’d like to sometimes,” she said with a laugh.

Hank Thomas

Thomas loves numbers. As a former engineer for Boeing, Thomas is the council member known for examining the figures in city budgets and reports to analyze how everything pencils out. He can do that, he said, because he’s retired and enjoys understanding where city dollars go.

During his one term on the council, “I’ve put more than a full-time job into it,” he said.

All this studying led Thomas to decide that building the Southeast Bypass would be a financial liability for the city. He said he also believed some crucial environmental repercussions of the project were being ignored and that he wasn’t getting all the information as a council member.

“We haven’t even studied the groundwater coming down through Tiger Mountain,” he said, adding that one-fifth of the city’s aquifer recharge comes from there.

If elected, Thomas said, he would go out of his way to deliver “packages of information to the council that are complete and objective.”

He added that he would seek a performance audit of the $4.2 million spent studying the Southeast Bypass. “There are glaring holes,” he said. “It’s like a piece of Swiss cheese.”

To get a better handle on traffic, Thomas wants to hook up the Intelligent Transportation System throughout Issaquah, especially at May Valley and Issaquah-Hobart roads — the prime backup spot, he said.

“We can do everything, including paving the entire city, and you’d still get clogged there,” he said.

Thomas also would like to join Washington Department of Transportation to use a reader board on Interstate 90 at the Lakemont/Newport Boulevard exit to alert drivers to traffic conditions and recommend alternate routes when necessary.

His other priorities include increasing subsidies for Parks and Recreation facilities, protecting Issaquah’s wetlands and forested hillsides, and preserving the character of Issaquah’s history.

Thomas said he also supports annexation of the Klahanie and Greenwood Point/South Cove neighborhoods — if residents of those areas agree to accept the city’s debt. The annexation would almost double the city’s population, from 17,000 to 32,000, and residents are set to vote on the proposal in the Nov. 8 general election. It also must be approved by the City Council.

Sonia Krishnan: 206-515-5546 or