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The North Bay commute line will still be built in stages, but commute planners on Wednesday vowed to extend the Marin County terminus from the Civic Center to downtown San Rafael.

"It will add $38 million to the initial segment cost, but it is the right thing to do," said Debora Fudge, chairwoman of the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit district.

That new strategy and the presentation of two independent analyses of SMART's sales tax projections demanded by Marin board members appeared to heal a rift that had developed between the two counties over the past month.

"I think we are back on track," said Judy Arnold, a SMART director and chairwoman of the Marin County Board of Supervisors.

Another major action in the four-hour meeting was the unanimous decision by the SMART board to purchase trains from Sumitomo Corp. of America, a $56.8 million order for nine two-car trains.

"It's a big day," said Fudge, who signed the purchase contract after the meeting. "You look forward to a day like this, you work toward it for five years, when you take the vote, it was almost surreal, it is a positive step forward."

Sumitomo Corp., the financial partner of Nippon Sharyo, a Japanese rail car builder, was the low bidder to provide the cars. Called Diesel Multiple Units, the individually powered cars have the weight and design to withstand crashes and will meet 2015 federal emission regulations.

The aluminum shells of the cars will be built in Nippon Sharyo's plant in Japan and shipped to a new plant being constructed in Rochelle, Ill., for final assembly, satisfying federal Buy America standards.

In what has been a contentious issue that divided Marin and Sonoma directors, the SMART board deferred taking final action on issuing $250 million in bonds for construction and operating expenses until January.

Instead, it ordered it staff to work with SMART's financial advisers to come up with new estimates after reviews by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and by Sonoma State University economist Robert Eyler on the initial estimates.

Those reviews were done at the insistence of the Marin County Board of Supervisors and Marin's members on the SMART board, creating a controversy that threatened to derail the line.

"They provided a realistic assessment," said Arnold. Marin's board of supervisors had asked SMART to delay its plans until outside reviews were done.

SMART's consultant had estimated that over the 20-year life of the quarter-cent sales tax, which was approved by voters in November 2008, there would be enough money to raise $193 million to $213 million in a bond sale, depending on the interest rate.

Eyler, a principal of Economic Forensics and Analytics, said the Beacon report was theoretically sound, but he felt it should be more conservative, specifically in its projections of population growth.

"You have to be careful of how conservative you become, you could miss the boat," Eyler said.

The MTC report, however, projected that the bond sales would more likely result in funding of $151 million to $210 million, widening the gap between what SMART wants to build and what it can afford.

The regional transportation agency recommended that SMART staff and advisors review and revise their figures.

MTC also reviewed the cost of constructing the initial line approved by the SMART board on Nov. 6. The line would run from Railroad Square in Santa Rosa to the Civic Center in San Rafael and was estimated to cost $395 million.

One of MTC's consultants, the National Constructors Group, estimated it would be $49 million less, while a second, Parsons Brinckerhoff, estimated it would cost $20 million more.

However, MTC strongly recommended that SMART run the line to downtown San Rafael, connecting the two largest cities in Sonoma and Marin counties and serving the most riders.

"The initial segment may be the only operable segment that you have for some time, and we think that you should connect the two downtowns," said Alix Bockelman, MTC director of programming and allocations.

Bockelman said that if necessary, SMART could eliminate the stations at Corona Road in Petaluma and in northern Marin County to make up the difference, which could be $42 million to $50 million.

MTC staff said there is $22 million in Bay Area Toll Bridge funds that could be directed toward the San Rafael extension.

MTC said it will work with SMART to find more money, recommending that local and regional funds that are unallocated or have been earmarked for projects that are stalled could be redirected to SMART.

"We believe the shortfall to be $62 million to $125 million to build to downtown San Rafael," Bockelman said. "We view this gap as manageable."