Sonoma County transit officials Monday agreed to give $6.6 million that would have gone for bicycle and pedestrian projects to the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District to buy additional cars.
With the extra cars, SMART officials said they can run passenger trains at 30-minute intervals, providing better service, and possibly even extend service to Airport Boulevard north of Santa Rosa.
"We must all be focused on pushing this train north, and this move today will help that," said Mike McGuire, a county supervisor and member of the county Transportation Authority.
In making the 10-2 vote, McGuire and other members of the Transportation Authority who approved the SMART request said they did so reluctantly because bike and pedestrian safety projects are sorely needed but SMART is more important.
"How do I explain this to people who will not let their child ride a bike to school because they don't feel it is safe?" asked Cloverdale Councilwoman Carol Russell, who also is a SMART director and who voted to shift the funds.
SMART's request for $6.6 million was two-thirds of $9.9 million in federal funding that Sonoma County is receiving for congestion mitigation and air quality projects, which largely are such items as bike and pedestrian paths, bike lanes, safety improvements for bikes and pedestrians and Safe Routes to Schools programs.
Bicycle advocates have been SMART's staunchest supporters.
"They are taking it on the chin and that part really sucks," said county Supervisor Shirlee Zane, a SMART director who voted for the money.
SMART was criticized for not making the request until last week and for asking to have its funding bid approved first.
"This threatens the safety of people who bike and walk in Sonoma County, and submitting the request at the last minute isn't really fair play," Sandra Lupien, outreach director for the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, told the Transportation Authority board.
Petaluma Vice Mayor Tiffany Ren? and Windsor Town Councilman Steve Allen voted against the money shift.
"The issue boils down to taking money from local jurisdictions," Allen said. "It is being spent on buying rail cars elsewhere, it is taking money away from the local pot."
While the county is getting the $9.9 million, the county and its cities have submitted requests to the Transportation Authority that total $38 million. The requests will be evaluated by the authority staff and selected next year.
SMART asked that it be given $6.6 million now so it can buy another two-car train from Nippon Sharyo USA, which has a contract to build six two-car trains at a total cost of $40 million.
SMART chief engineer Bill Gamlen said if SMART didn't get the order in by the end of this month, the price probably would increase and delivery probably would be delayed until 2018 because Nippon Sharyo has orders from other agencies.
State Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, is seeking $10 million to $15 million to rebuild the tracks to passenger service standards from Guerneville Road, the current planned northern terminus, to Airport Boulevard.
Rohnert Park Mayor Jake Mackenzie, who's on the SMART, Transportation Authority and Metropolitan Transportation Commission boards, said the MTC would tie Evans' funding request to the ability of SMART to have enough trains for full service.
SMART is building its operations and maintenance facility at Airport Boulevard, but the site also could be used as a passenger station serving the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport and 6,000 workers in the area's business parks.