It may not be on par with the golden spike that Leland Stanford drove in 1869 to complete the First Transcontinental Railroad. But the North Bay is expected to witness a landmark moment of its own this week with the convergence of two major transportation systems.
On Wednesday, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission is expected to vote on a request for $16.7 million to build a Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit rail station near the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport.
If approved, this would set in motion a much-needed link between the North Bay's commuter train and the region's only commercial airport, which is in the process of a $53 million expansion that will deliver more flights and be an economic boost to the region.
The connection not only makes sense from the perspective of giving travelers the option of taking public transit to their flight, the airport area also is home to some 5,000 workers who could benefit from access to the commuter line on a regular basis.
"We always thought that having a station at the airport is something that simply makes a lot of sense," said SMART General Manager Farhad Mansourian, who credits state Sen. Noreen Evans for her leadership in working with MTC and helping to get the funding.
But given the system's funding shortfall, driven largely by the collapse of the economy in 2007, SMART's original plan for phase one was to go between downtown San Rafael and downtown Santa Rosa.
Since then, the train system's financial picture has improved significantly and it has received significant help from elected officials such as Evans.
As a result, Mansourian says that if MTC comes through with the funding this week as expected, the SMART train would likely be able to offer service to the airport from the moment the train begins operation in 2016.
"And we don't plan to stop there," he says, acknowledging the commitment to build the line all the way to Cloverdale. "We are going to continue looking for more funds."
Meanwhile, having the airport connection may open up federal funding opportunities at the southern end, where SMART is working to make the $40 million connection to the Larkspur ferry terminal.
That effort received a significant boost in October when SMART announced it had been accepted into an exclusive federal funding program for transportation projects. But of the 50 or so projects that qualify for the Federal Transit Administration's Small Start program, they're required to obtain a minimum of 20 percent in local matching funds. The Transportation Authority of Marin responded by providing an $11.4 million boost by diverting funds from bridge tolls.
Meanwhile, the Sonoma County Transportation Authority has been providing matching funds at this end as well, including $4.3 million allocated Monday for the airport station.
If and when SMART completes the 2.2-mile extension to Larkspur's Golden Gate Ferry terminal to the south and to the airport to the north, it creates what Mansourian calls "a regional ferry to a regional airport" connection.
No, it's not what SMART supporters were expecting when they approved the quarter-cent sales tax in November 2008. But it's a better start.