SMART urged to delay $91 million bike path

The Marin County Grand Jury is urging the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit agency to postpone its $91 million pedestrian-bike pathway as a way to help solve a funding shortfall that may jeopardize the launch the commute rail line on schedule.

The grand jury report also is critical of the retirement system set up for the 10 Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit agency employees, calling it generous and unsustainable, and suggests that it be reconsidered. Jurors also called for SMART to undergo an independent audit.

"This project, which appeared to be achievable less than two years ago, now faces overwhelming obstacles," the report states. "The Grand Jury urges the SMART Board to provide the leadership required to surmount these significant challenges."

The report, "SMART: Steep Grade Ahead," was released Friday.

In a written response, SMART said that during the past 20 months it has reached many of the same conclusions.

"Because of the difficult economy, SMART does face financial obstacles, as the report suggests. We are working to address those obstacles and, as the report indicates, the decisions made by the Board of Directors over the next six months will be critical to the success of the project."

SMART spokesman Chris Coursey said any other response will be made by the agency's board of directors.

SMART is being funded by a quarter-cent sales tax passed by voters in 2008 that had been projected to generate $890.7 million over 20 years. Because of the economic downturn, sales tax projections are down 5 percent and construction costs increased 9 percent, creating a shortfall currently estimated to be $155 million.

SMART has been operating under a plan that calls for starting service on the 70-mile line from Cloverdale to Larkspur in 2014. Consultants are now updating construction estimates, looking for cost-cutting measures and revising tax revenue projections.

The new figures will be considered by SMART directors in October and November.

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