A regional transportation panel Wednesday approved $16.7 million to extend a commuter rail line to Airport Boulevard north of Santa Rosa.

With the funding in place, the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit authority could decide to build a passenger station near the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport, which has long been a goal, SMART officials said.

The full Metropolitan Transportation Commission must vote on the allocation next week, but a green light from the MTC's programming committee is a key step, transportation officials said.

SMART trains are scheduled to run between Santa Rosa and San Rafael in 2016. Voters in 2008 approved a sales tax measure to fund the 70-mile line from Cloverdale to Larkspur, but the rail authority was forced to scale back the initial line due to the recession.

SMART officials say they are looking for funding to extend the line beyond the initial operating segment.

The Sonoma County Transportation Authority on Monday allocated $4.3 million for the airport extension project.