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King County Journal, October 31, 2005

Election 2005: Issaquah mayoral race hinges on traffic issues

Chris Winters

In many ways, Issaquah is the poster child for traffic congestion. The small-but-growing city that straddles Interstate 90 in the foothills of the Cascades has become the funnel through which traffic from May Valley to Sammamish pours in order to reach the freeway.

The mayor's race in Issaquah has, whether the candidates like it or not, come to revolve around congestion, and the role the much-disputed Southeast Bypass project should or should not play in reducing it.

The bypass is intended to route traffic from south of the city around it to the east on the slopes of Tiger Mountain to connect with I-90, reducing backups downtown. It has been the focus of a 10-year-long planning process and debate that focuses on everything from its touted efficacy, to environmental concerns, to the residents who would likely lose their homes if it is built.

Two-term Mayor Ava Frisinger is seeking re-election and faces a challenge by one-term Councilman Hank Thomas. Thomas has been a vociferous opponent of the bypass, leading the charge to kill it temporarily earlier this year, while Frisinger has pushed to complete the project's environmental impact study.
The study should be completed by next spring, and the post-election council will be the one to vote to either build it or not.

Thomas has asserted that there are fatal flaws in the study, and says it does not include information about water infiltration from Tiger Mountain. Getting that data would be even more expensive than the $4.2 million already spent.

``The Southeast Bypass has taken all attention away from everything else, and more important, has taken the money that might have been received for other projects,'' he said.

Thomas won't be on the council to vote on the bypass, but if he's elected mayor, he said he would make a point to present the council with more information on data he said are lacking, and how much it would cost to study those issues.
Frisinger said that in an ideal situation, the bypass could be built in a manner that is environmentally sound.

If the final environmental impact statement does show the project is fatally flawed, then the City Council will be right to decide not to build the bypass, she said. But the flaws can't be known until the study is completed.
``I feel very strongly that the environmental impact statement needs to be concluded, because until it is, those sorts of things are speculation and assumption,'' she said.

The bypass issue is being played out against the larger background of relieving traffic congestion. Both candidates tout the Intelligent Transportation System, which will synchronize traffic lights in and around downtown Issaquah, as a major accomplishment. Parts of the ITS system will come online by the end of the year.

Frisinger points to her record of working with regional bodies to construct the new Park & Ride lot in the Issaquah Highlands, which will have 1,000 parking stalls, and to expand the Newport Way lot.

She said she will continue to work through groups such as the Eastside Transportation Partnership to lobby for additional services for the city, such as increased frequency of buses and extending the range of the free Metro 200 shuttle that runs a loop downtown.

Thomas advocates tying the ITS system into the state's onramp metering lights on I-90 and also the May Valley light on the Issaquah-Hobart Road as a way of widening the neck on the traffic funnel that Issaquah has become.

He also would like to talk to the state about using the electronic readerboard over I-90 to alert eastbound traffic about congestion in Issaquah, so southbound traffic can exit at State Route 18 instead of heading straight through downtown.
Outside of traffic, Issaquah faces the possible overnight, near-doubling of its population if the residents of Klahanie and Greenwood Point/South Cove vote Nov. 8 to annex to the city. In that case, Frisinger sees incorporating those communities into the civic life of the city, and also continuing to support habitat restoration for salmon as important issues.

Thomas would like to expand access to the city government so residents will feel their concerns are being heard. Too many people are being cut out of the decision-making processes that affect the neighborhoods they live in, he said.

Chris Winters can be reached at chris.winters@kingcountyjournal.com or 425-453-4232.

Personal: 61; husband, Bill; two grown children; three grandchildren

Profession: Mayor of Issaquah for eight years

Education: Bachelor of Arts in English literature and biology, University of Michigan; Master of Arts in English literature, University of Washington

Community involvement: 2 terms on City Council; represents the city on the Water Resource Inventory Area 8 committee, the Eastside Transportation Partnership, the Seattle-King County Board of Health and other regional bodies; also volunteers with Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery; member of the Issaquah Chamber of Commerce, Friends of the Issaquah Library and the steering committee for Sustainable Seattle

Key issue: Reaching a decision on the Southeast Bypass
Web site: www.frisinger.net

Personal: 61; wife. Jacklyn; three children; nine grandchildren; two great-grandchildren

Profession: Retired from the U.S. Navy and Boeing; runs a small business that makes almond and peanut brittle, soup and pasta salad mixes, which he sells in the Issaquah Public Market

Education: Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering, Purdue University; Master of Science in systems management, University of Denver

Community involvement: One term on the City Council; president of the board of trustees of Eastside Home Association (Hutchison House); board member of Faith In Action at Providence Marionwood; president and founder of Pickering Heritage Society; Kiwanis member

Key issue: Solving traffic congestion

Web site: www.hankthomas.us


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Rev. 1/19/07