The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit agency Wednesday reaffirmed its support for a pedestrian and bicycle path, rejecting a Marin County grand jury recommendation it be delayed as a cost-cutting measure.
However, SMART is undertaking a review of its construction costs and revenues, which may dictate when and how much of the 70-mile line may be opened by 2014, as promised.
"It's premature for us to be making any decisions, it's mandatory that we have all the numbers," said Marin County Supervisor Judy Arnold, a SMART board member.
The grand jury in its June 25th report also recommended that SMART undergo an independent audit, which SMART rejected as being unnecessary.
"We have already got it at several different levels," said SMART General Manager Lillian Hames.
Hames said SMART had outside audits in 2006 and 2008, has its own independent audits and is audited by Caltrans, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and federal transportation agencies.
The recommendations were contained in the grand jury's report titled "SMART: Steep Grade Ahead," which raised the questions largely because of the transit agency's looming financial problems.
SMART is financed by a quarter-cent sales tax from Measure Q, which was approved by votes of both Sonoma and Marin counties in 2008. The tax was estimated to raise $890.7 million over 20 years.
The measure called for 14 stations on the line from Cloverdale to Larkspur, with a pedestrian and bicycle path alongside.
But with the recession hurting revenues, uncertain construction costs and a weak bond market, SMART has projected it will be $155 million short of the funds needed to open the full line..
SMART staff and consultants have undertaken a review of the updated construction costs, where there might be savings and new projections for sales tax revenues and bonding capacity.
The estimates will be finished in September and SMART directors are expected to adopt a construction plan by the end of this year.
The grand jury recommended SMART defer building the bike and pedestrian path, which was estimated to cost $91 million, until alternative funding could be found.
It was the most contentious of the grand jury's eight recommendations.
"We at the northern end of this project were pleased to see the recommendations did not include truncating the line, although we were saddened to see the bike and pedestrian path recommendation," said Cloverdale Mayor Carol Russell. "We want to see we get 70 miles of train."
Cycling advocates said SMART needs to stand by its original promise.
"Measure Q was the train and the pathway, that is what voters voted on and it can't be peeled away," said Andy Peri of the Marin County Bicycle Coalition.
The grand jury also asked SMART to reconsider what the grand jury termed excessively generous retirement benefits for the SMART staff, which now numbers 14.
In response, SMART said the benefits, which include paying both the agency's and employees contributions to the retirement plan, will be evaluated.