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CLOSE TO HOME: SMART's focus is on delivering train by 2014

This is an exciting time for all of us associated with the SMART rail district. As we begin to receive proceeds from the quarter-cent sales tax approved by 70 percent of voters last November, we can set aside the past political campaigns and get down to the hard work of creating a first-rate transportation project that will benefit the economy, the environment and the quality of life of the North Bay.

As chairman and vice-chairwoman of the SMART board of directors, we want to make one point absolutely clear: We remain committed to the plan described in Measure Q delivering the passenger train and pathway from Cloverdale to Larkspur by 2014. We stand by that commitment.

Recent articles, letters, columns and commentaries in newspapers in both Marin and Sonoma counties have suggested that somehow SMART is reneging on the promise of Measure Q. These are based on two recent developments: the recommendation from our staff that SMART choose a heavy rail vehicle and the development of a strategic plan in which we acknowledge that the recent economic meltdown leaves SMART facing a $155 million funding gap.

The vehicle issue is a complicated one, but the bottom line is simple. The SMART board is committed to acquiring vehicles with the most up-to-date emissions-control technology available and that provide a high-quality, comfortable experience for our passengers. That is our commitment regardless of whether the rail cars are heavy or light.

Our foremost concern is to choose a vehicle that provides the environmental benefits that were identified in our environmental impact reports. To reduce greenhouse gases and at the same time reduce harmful pollutants such as particulates and nitrogen oxides, SMARTs vehicles must have the latest emission-control technology, a standard known as Tier 4.

Our EIRs were based on a heavy vehicle using the equivalent of Tier 4 technology. Acquiring a light rail car with Tier 4 could deliver even more environmental benefits. Either way, the project will cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than 30 million pounds a year.

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