SMART approves $171 milllion bond sale despite delays

  • 7/16/2009: B1: An artist's rendering of the heavier SMART rail cars.

    PC: Attached is the image of the train they might use if they ever get a commuter rail system operating in Sonoma and Marin. to run with 16Riders on Sunday.

    2/20/2003: A9: The self-propelled Colorado Railcar depicted above is lighter than a locomotive and can carry about 90 passengers per car.

    12/31/2006: B3: SMART rail, open space

    7/22/2008: B2: SMART officials say rail service from Cloverdale to Larkspur would give a commute alternative, while critics say the time is not right for a new tax.

The first SMART commuter train probably won't make the 37-mile trip between Santa Rosa and San Rafael until at least 2015, a journey far shorter and later than originally planned.

But Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit appears to be gathering momentum despite the delay and despite continuing criticism the train is a boondoggle in the making.

On Wednesday, SMART's board of director's unanimously approved a $400 million financial plan that should allow the district to receive $23 million in funding from the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission in September.

That money in turn sets the stage for SMART to go to the financial market in October to sell up to $171 million in bonds approved by Marin and Sonoma county voters in 2008.

Together, the revenue puts SMART in a position to start moving more quickly, said Valerie Brown, chairwoman of the SMART board and a Sonoma County Supervisor.

"Today was pretty momentous," she said.

SMART had been set to get similar funding from the MTC in July, but the commission held off in light of questions about new cost and revenue estimates developed this summer by rail agency staff.

SMART originally was planned to open in 2014 with service from Larkspur to Cloverdale, a distance of 70 miles. But declining sales tax revenues and a weak bond financing market prompted the agency to announce it would open the line in stages, starting with the 37-mile stretch from San Rafael to Santa Rosa.

That first phase is now expected to cost $360 million, an increase of $25 million.

Such tinkerings to the cost and scope of the project have ignited opposition to the train system. Detractors showed up in force Wednesday to raise concerns about what they see as a wasteful, ill-conceived rail pan.

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