Sonoma County asking Marin to fund greater share of commuter rail line

The effort to bridge a $21 million financial gap for the initial Sonoma-Marin commute rail line is taking on a new urgency, with the rail district getting ready to sell bonds and seek construction bids.

Negotiations were held last week by the Sonoma County Transportation Authority, the Transportation Authority of Marin and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission on sharing that final piece of funding.

MTC, the regional transportation agency, is working with the Sonoma and Marin transit bodies "on trying to find the money to close this gap," said Randy Rentschler, MTC's manager of legislative and public affairs.

"How much, how are we going to share, a third, a third, a third? I cannot tell you what the number is. We are talking about it, but we have not put money on the table."

The issue will be discussed Monday by Sonoma's transportation authority, where the feeling is Marin has not done its share.

On Thursday, the issue will come before Marin's transportation authority in what could be a contentious meeting because Marin voters gave the rail plan only lukewarm support in the November 2008 election.

The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transportation agency, SMART, is struggling to get a commute line started in the midst of an economic downturn that has depressed sales tax revenues that are needed to back construction bonds.

MTC has asked SMART to postpone the sale of construction bonds until it has a financial plan that covers the complete cost.

The regional planning agency holds the purse strings for regional, state and federal funds for the nine Bay Area counties, including the $22 million in toll bridge funds in Marin County that have already have been promised to SMART.

MTC has also taken a stronger role in getting the SMART project into construction. It is similar to MTC's last-minute addition of $20 million for a BART connector to the Oakland Airport last year and $80 million to the Doyle Drive approach to the Golden Gate Bridge in 2009.

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