SMART work progressing in Santa Rosa, expanding in Marin County

  • Workers dismantle the last of the railroad side tracks as the new SMART crossing is installed at Seventh Street in Santa Rosa, Tuesday March 12, 2013. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

With construction crews finishing track replacement work through Santa Rosa this month, officials at Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit are starting to plan for the final stages of the $360 million project that will link Santa Rosa to San Rafael.

So far, about 15 miles of track have been completed in Sonoma County, along with the repair or replacement of 25 road crossings and six bridges, work that was part of a $105 million package of contracts now nearing completion.

Next, SMART plans to award up to $80 million in new contracts this spring, primarily to finish the southern end, from the Marin Civic Center to downtown San Rafael, but also to complete work in Sonoma County.

"The project is on schedule and on track," spokeswoman Carolyn Glendening said this week.

The 39-mile commuter rail line is scheduled to begin operating late in 2015 or early 2016. The first train cars, under construction in Illinois, will be delivered early next year, enabling test trips on the new tracks.

Construction is under way as well at stations in Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park and Cotati. The new round of contracts will include building a new operations and maintenance facility in the north end of Santa Rosa.

Much of the work on the project involves tearing up and replacing old tracks. SMART officials say the new track will be less noisy and more environmentally friendly than traditional railroads. The noise will be reduced by using quarter-mile-long steel rails, meaning fewer joints to clatter under the wheels. Environmental damage will be reduced by replacing the traditional ties and road crossings, made of creosote-soaked wood, with concrete and steel.

The SMART project was largely funded by a 2008 ballot measure that imposed a one-quarter percent sales tax, approved by voters in the two counties. It has attracted a number of smaller state and federal grants as well, such as $9 million in federal funding to improve road crossings and another $19 million federal grant to add more rail cars and extend the line north of Guerneville Road to Airport Boulevard, where the new operation and maintenance yard will be.

"I would say from Sonoma County's point of view, we're seeing evidence that the sales tax money is being put to good use," said SMART board member Jake Mackenzie, also a city council member in Rohnert Park.

In his own city, officials are hoping construction of the rail station will spur new interest in the vacant downtown property formerly occupied by State Farm Insurance.

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