Now, let?s talk about SMART?s finances. Just like every public agency, most businesses and millions of American households, SMART has felt the negative effects of this recession. The hard-working volunteers serving on our Citizens Advisory Committee have helped develop a strategic plan that identifies a potential funding gap of $155 million in today?s dollars.

Fortunately, we don?t need those dollars today. The gap, which for the most part is caused by a reduced ability to raise cash by issuing bonds, won?t affect SMART?s plans until bond money is needed to pay for construction projects beginning in 2011. Between now and then, existing sales tax revenues will provide enough money to allow us to continue with the design work necessary before construction commences in two years.

Meanwhile, we are working hard to identify other sources of revenue, such as federal stimulus funds and money contained in the new transportation bill being considered by Congress. Combined with an improving economy and strengthening bond market, we are confident we can significantly narrow that funding gap in the next two years.

Our critics, some of whom have expressed their opinions in these pages, would blame us for these difficulties or even ? in one case ? accuse us of covering them up (when in fact they have been discussed in at least 10 public meetings since February). But the truth is, our challenges are simply the result of unfortunate timing. The economy didn?t really enter its tailspin until last September, months after we adopted our funding and expenditure plans. And even then no one knew how bad it would get.

To highlight the importance of timing, consider this: Had we succeeded with our 2006 ballot measure, which failed by less than 1.5 percent, SMART would have benefitted from the robust bond market of 2007, and we would be issuing construction contracts right now and no doubt receiving bids up to 30 percent below estimates, as enjoyed by some other public agencies.

Over the next two years, SMART will design and engineer a project that delivers a high-quality transit system at the lowest possible cost. In 2011, we will start building it. By the end of 2014, our goal is to have trains running from Larkspur to Cloverdale. That?s what you said you wanted. That?s what we are working to deliver.

<i>Charles McGlashan and Debora Fudge serve as chairman and vice-chairwoman, respectively, of the SMART board of directors.</i>