SMART Ready to Finalize Cuts, Approve Bond Sale

April 18--Postponing construction of stations in Petaluma and Novato is among the $88 million in cost-saving measures the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit board is expected to approve Wednesday as it moves forward with plans to open an initial line in 2014.

The SMART board also is expected to approve the sale of construction bonds, which are estimated to raise $161 million.

Even with the cuts, however, there is potentially a gap of $21 million between SMART funds and the cost of building and operating the line over the next two decades.

"All of this is projection and estimates," SMART spokesman Chris Coursey said. "There are those who believe that if we can get these construction contracts out right away, the construction market will give us savings also."

SMART is searching for additional funding from other agencies, Coursey said. It is currently in discussions with the Metropolitan Transportation Agency, Transportation Authority of Marin and Sonoma County Transportation Authority, he said.

Hard hit by a recession that has depressed revenues from a quarter-cent sales tax, SMART has been forced to scale back its plans to build a 70-mile commuter line from Larkspur to Cloverdale by 2014. It now plans to start with a shorter line running from Railroad Square in Santa Rosa to downtown San Rafael in 2014 and expand it to the full route some time in the future.

SMART could save $16.8 million by deferring the construction of stations at Corona Road in Petaluma and Atherton in Novato. It still plans to build primary stations in both cities as part of its initial rail line.

Additionally, SMART could qualify for $22 million in regional funding by postponing the Corona Road and Atherton stations. Both are located in areas with little existing or planning housing. By removing them, the rail system's remaining stations would meet MTC housing density guidelines

Other cost-cutting items include reducing the funding for the pedestrian-bicycle path by a third; building a smaller maintenance facility and possibly moving it from Santa Rosa to Petaluma; rebuilding rather than replacing the bridge over the Petaluma River; and buying 12 trains instead of 18.

The meeting is at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors chambers. ___

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