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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.

But Trump’s campaign promise to boost spending amounts likely would face significant political headwinds, including from within his own party. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for instance, has said infrastructure is a low priority.

Others likely will resist Trump’s plan to pay for the increased spending by essentially privatizing public infrastructure.

Specifically, senior advisers to the president-elect outlined a plan in October for raising $1 trillion in private investment through $167 billion in government-funded equity, along with large tax credits.

Under that plan, the tax credits would be repaid by additional tax revenue created by the projects, including from income taxes generated by job growth and corporate taxes on contractor profits.

Such a private investment model has been touted in the Bay Area, including by an alliance of business interests seeking to establish a toll road to widen and raise Highway 37 between Novato and Vallejo.

But Jake Mackenzie, Rohnert Park’s vice mayor and vice chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, expressed mixed feelings about private interests owning and operating publicly infrastructure.

“I’d have to say that in a general sense, my preference is for publicly funded infrastructure,” he said. “But if we get to that point where we do not have action from our federal government, and if we don’t get action from the state government, then I guess we would be considering that.”

You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 707-521-5336 or derek.moore@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @deadlinederek.

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