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"SMART train to arrive two years late in central Sonoma County"

The SMART news is coming fast and furious this week, relatively speaking. Found the following article on the website:

Commute train service to a significant portion of Sonoma County would be delayed for at least two years under a plan approved Wednesday by transit directors.

Instead, the first trains would roll from Marin County to Petaluma, and at best as far north as Santa Rosa, because of funding difficulties brought on by the recession.

That prospect dismayed SMART board directors. Sonoma County, which had pushed the hardest for the SMART train and had given the 2008 quarter-cent sales tax measure the strongest support, would be the county that will have to wait for the promised service.

“I am very upset that the northern portion will be delayed because without the north, there would have been no project,” said Al Boro, president of the Golden Gate Bridge District board and a director of the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit board.

Instead of 2014, it will take until 2016 to complete the entire 70-mile line from Larkspur to Cloverdale, General Manager Lillian Hames told directors Wednesday.

The district is $155 million short of the funds it needs to build the complete line, estimated to cost just over $1 billion, largely because of the economic downturn.

“We have not found any source that will allow us to complete the project by 2014,” Hames said.

Under the new plan, the district would spend all the money it can raise from taxes and bonds to build the rail line from Larkspur as far north as possible and open it in the fall of 2014.

A rail start in Marin County is important because it would be used as leverage to apply for federal funds to complete the Sonoma County portion. Marin County has the highest population density at the station sites, the highest potential for ridership and is closest to the Golden Gate Bridge, which must spend its federal funding in the corridor leading to the brige, Hames said.

How far the line would go will be determined during the next six months as SMART consultants do a cost analysis, Hames said.

“We will know better in six months, but I will guess between Petaluma and northern Santa Rosa,” Hames said.

The rest of the line, including stops in Windsor, Healdsburg and Cloverdale would have to wait until 2016.

The SMART quarter-cent sales tax is expected to raise $850 million over 20 years — $46 million less than anticipated when the commute train was presented to voters.

The SMART plan has depended on tax revenues and the ability to sell bonds for the early years of construction.

Because of the recession, sales tax revenues are 9 percent below projections. With the tightening of the bond market, the district could only get $200 million in funding, not the $300 million that was expected.

“The economy collapsed a month and a half before the vote, we could not have predicted that,” said Debora Fudge, a Windsor councilwoman and chairman of the SMART board.

The initial inkling that SMART was facing financial problems came last May, when a citizens advisory board looking at the district’s finances found the shortfall and advised the board to consider building the line in stages.

Instead, the board ordered staff to mine state and federal sources for the funds.

Cloverdale Councilwoman Carol Russell was adamant the line be completed to Cloverdale then, but has now softened her stand.

“It’s the awful reality of the situation,” Russell said Wednesday.

Fudge said the agency is feeling the effects of the deepest recession since the Great Depression, in much the same way as every government agency, business and home.

“This was a shock to hear, this was hard news for the SMART board to hear,” said Fudge. “It was not unexpected, the citizen advisory board had already told us we were short. We were hoping for a miracle, now we are being realistic.”

Hames said the alternative is to continue work to open the line only when all 70 miles are complete. With the present funding situation, that would be in 2021, she said.

To apply for the federal funding, SMART will need to get the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to put the project on its priority list.

“We have to go back to the people who put it on the ballot and did all the work,” said Shirlee Zane of Santa Rosa, a Sonoma County supervisor and new SMART director. “It could be a hard sell to not build beyond Petaluma, it could be a problem.”

The funding proposal passed the SMART board unanimously.

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Yikes. They should take the OAC money. Better said, I wish BART would give back the OAC money to the MTC. This project is a much, much better example of a needed service.

I can't wait to be able to take the ferry to Novato or Larkspur, and hop on a train to wine country. I hope it runs weekends!
Agreed, Evan. I have this crazy notion that once the SMART line and adjoining pedestrian/bike path are complete all the way to Cloverdale, I will, in one day, take Caltrain from Menlo Park to SF, bike to the ferry terminal, ferry/bike to Larkspur, take SMART some distance north before biking the rest of the way to Cloverdale (or some other Sonoma County destination served by SMART), have lunch, then return in pretty much the same fashion. Bold plan, at any rate.

Mark D.
Hopefully we can even narrow that even more, and they can get the Transbay Terminal built, extend Caltrain from 4th and King to 1st and Main, and you can walk 3 blocks from Transbay to the Ferry!

If only Marin hadn't backed out of BART...oh well.


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