When directors of the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit agency meet Wednesday they'll face the possibility of up to a two-year delay in the launch of commuter service — not because of rising costs but from the gauntlet of government review agencies.
"I doubt we will be operational by 2014," Farhad Mansourian, SMART's executive director, said Monday referring top the long-planned start date. "We will work our tail off to try to meet every requirement, but there are things beyond our control."
SMART officials said a delay of one to two years is probable because of the necessary regional, state and federal permits for construction in wetlands and creeks.
The potential postponement will be a backdrop to the directors review and possible approval of a new financial plan that reflects continuing cost increases for a system originally planed to open in 2014 with service from Larkspur to Cloverdale, a distance of 70 miles.
Declining sales tax revenues and a weak bond financing market prompted the agency to decide to open the line in stages, starting with a 37-mile stretch from San Rafael to Santa Rosa. That first phase is now expected to cost $360 million, an increase of $25 million.
The revisions were developed over the past two months by Mansourian, who is Marin County's public works director temporarily on loan to SMART.
The board also has a closed session scheduled to consider hiring a new general manager. The district has been negotiating a contract with the board's top choice, who has not been identified.
The estimates include construction increases of $70 million, of which $26 million is attributed to a federally-required train control system that has not yet been developed, $10 million for additional engineering and administration services and $11 million for a train maintenance facility.
However, Mansourian identified $26.7 million in cost savings and estimated that SMART's quarter-cent sales tax will bring in $22 million more than anticipated.
Each year that service is delayed would save the district $12 million in operation costs, he said.
Mansourian said any delay in service would reflect an inability to get permits to work in the wetlands and creeks in time, not an attempt to save money.
The district has applied for some of the permits, but others cannot be sought until the design work is completed, Mansourian said.
"If you are going to work in a wetland area, Fish and Game wants to know how many inches of wetland you are taking," Mansourian said. "You can't just say I think I will take only a little."
Mansourian said the cost-savings and new revenue projections will balance the additional expenses that he's estimated.
He also said that costs will be re-evaluated as the project continues.
"It is a dynamic process," Mansourian said. "As you develop more detail, the cost can go up or come down, but for the total project, we are in the ball park."
SMART is meeting at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at San Rafael City Hall.