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Rail line $154.7 million short; angry official wins concession for Cloverdale

The recession, rising costs and a difficult bond market have left the Sonoma-Marin rail transit system $154.7 million short of what?s needed to to get trains fully running by the 2014 start date.

However, any suggestion that service might not be extended initially all the way north to Cloverdale was stricken from a strategic plan Wednesday at the insistence of an irate Cloverdale councilwoman.

?We voted for 70 miles of train line,? said Cloverdale Councilwoman Carol Russell, a member of the Sonoma Marin Area Rapid Transit board. ?Larkspur will get the train and Cloverdale will get the train,? she said, referring to the two terminals.

An outspoken and angry Russell said Cloverdale voters were strong supporters of the SMART sales tax ballot measure, approving it by a 3-to-1 margin. The city has had a train station for 15 years and believes the train would be an economic boost.

?We voted for this, we worked for this,? Russell said. And Cloverdale should not be left out ?until the day comes that you tell us that you don?t have a pot to piss in.?

The board agreed to eliminate language referring to phased-in service from the strategic plan presented Wednesday, which authors said was intended to show the dire financial situation facing the transit district.

Consultant Mark Lee told the board that in the past year, the recession has caused a 4.2 percent drop in sales tax revenues, the largest percentage drop since 1988.

Over the 20-year life of the quarter-cent sales tax, Lee said, SMART is estimated now to collect $46 million less, or $845 million, while an unfavorable bond market has made selling municipal bonds more costly and difficult.

?We had started to see financial problems, but who could have guessed the severity,? Lee said. ?And in 2008 the bond market collapsed.?

At the same time, construction costs have increased 9 percent, to $590 million, because of changes in rail car availability, stricter emission standards and a new system to control trains, consultants said.

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