President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign promise to dramatically increase funding for the nation’s infrastructure, possibly by boosting private investment in what ostensibly are public projects, carries uncertain promise and risk for Sonoma County’s cash-strapped transportation network.
From highways to city streets, and along a North Coast rail line where one day next year passenger service is scheduled to run, federal dollars are an important source of revenue.
All could benefit under Trump’s campaign promise to spend $1 trillion on the nation’s infrastructure needs. That amount would represent a massive increase from the $305 billion over five years approved by Congress in late 2015.
Whether Trump follows through on the proposal is anyone’s guess as the president-elect continues with the process of assuming power. But some North Coast transit planners are heartened by his focus on transportation needs, which could draw bipartisan support and sustain hundreds of well-paid jobs for local workers.
“The fact they are having this discussion is terrific,” said Farhad Mansourian, general manager of the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit authority, of Trump and his advisers. “We welcome investment in our national infrastructure in any shape or form.”
Congress in 2015 approved $22 million for SMART’s rail link from downtown San Rafael to the Larkspur ferry terminal. The extension, which carries an overall price tag of $40 million, is slated to be completed in 2018.
Mansourian expressed confidence this week that the federal funding will come through, even though construction agreements for the project aren’t scheduled to be signed until after Trump and a new Congress are sworn into office.
“It’s such a small amount in such a gigantic pot,” Mansourian said. “Twenty million is not really attractive for an auditor in Washington to try and grab it first.”
SMART also in September applied for an $8.5 million federal grant to pay for positive train control as part of the agency’s plans to extend the rail line north to Windsor. Mansourian said SMART will likely seek federal funding beyond that amount for the $40 million project.
Most of SMART’s funding comes from local and state sources. About 85 percent of the agency’s $30 million operating budget is covered by sales tax from Measure Q, the voter-approved rail initiative passed by voters in 2008.
SMART has delayed the start of passenger service until late spring 2017 as it confronts engine problems on the trains and challenges getting warning signals to function properly along the initial 42-mile route from north Santa Rosa to downtown San Rafael.
The Sonoma County Transportation Authority this week is inviting city and county officials to submit projects they’d like to fund using $20 million in federal funds allocated in the same spending bill Congress authorized a year ago.
These projects typically range from rehabilitation of roads to completing bike lanes or sidewalk enhancements, said Suzanne Smith, SCTA’s executive director.
“It’s great,” Smith said of the federal money, “but when you spread it out, it’s not a huge dollar amount. It doesn’t get to the larger capital projects like finishing the Sonoma-Marin Narrows (on Highway 101), getting SMART to Windsor or the Hearn Avenue interchange.”
About 15 to 20 percent of funding for Bay Area transportation projects comes from federal sources, with the majority of that money going toward maintaining the highway system, Smith said.