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The extension of the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit line from San Rafael to the ferry terminal at Larkspur was awarded a key federal grant Monday, a $22.5 million check that will help make the line more accessible for both commuters and Bay Area tourists.

The Federal Transit Administration grant virtually assures that the 2.1-mile section already under construction will have the $55.4 million needed to complete the job, now envisioned for the end of 2019.

While Congress set aside the funds in 2016, allocation of the money by the federal transportation bureaucracies was never assured, so the decision to release the funds was a huge relief and represents a significant accomplishment for the local rail agency, said Farhad Mansourian, SMART general manager.

“This is a big story,” Mansourian said. “We are one of five projects in the nation — out of a pipeline of 50-something — that has been approved.”

The project is important because it will make the transition between rail and ferry more convenient for commuters on the 43-mile line, and will also make the North Bay more accessible for tourists, Mansourian said. Riders currently take a shuttle bus between the ferry terminal and the downtown San Rafael rail station.

“When this is done, we’ll be connecting a regional ferry to a regional airport,” he said.

The community’s strong financial commitment to the project so far was a key to the project winning the grant, Mansourian said.

A total of $13.9 million in bridge tolls from the Metropolitan Transportation Agency and another $6.7 million from Measure Q, the quarter-cent sales tax measure passed in 2008, is being contributed to the project.

The balance is being made up by two chunks of other federal funds, $9.3 million federal highway administration funds and $3 million in federal rail dollars, he said.

The local funds being pumped into the extension don’t even include two other major infrastructure projects that made it possible. These include the $31.5 million project by the Marin County public works department, which Mansourian previously headed, to partition the tunnel between San Rafael and Larkspur to create separate tunnels for trains and pedestrian and bicyclists. That was completed in 2010.

Then there’s the $14 million pedestrian bridge from SMART’s Larkspur station site over Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, allowing passengers to walk to the ferry.

Such strong local funding commitments to the $600 million project have allowed the agency to make a compelling case for federal support.

“They were very impressed with what we have built and how much local money is behind the project,” Mansourian said.

The federal agencies allowed SMART to begin spending locals dollars on the project — at its own risk — even though the federal dollars had yet to be approved, which Mansourian said caused him to lose some sleep.

But it may also have been a sign that the federal agencies had gained confidence in SMART’s ability to execute.

Mansourian said he was proud that “this small transit agency in Northern California has been able to win not only the approval from Congress but three federal agencies as well.”

In a statement, SMART board members lauded the award and predicted great things would come of it.

“We want to thank all of our federal partners for securing funding for this important extension,” said SMART Chairwoman Debra Fudge. “This provides us with the resources needed to complete our work in Larkspur, and successfully expand the system.”

“Our Larkspur connection is an important link to San Francisco and will connect residents, employers and visitors to Sonoma and Marin counties,” said Judy Arnold, vice chairwoman of the SMART Board of Directors. “It will provide an economic boost for the North Bay and create new opportunities for businesses, tourism and our local communities.”

How much of a boost the extension really is remains to be seen.

The ferry terminal is massive, with parking for 1,800 cars and the terminal on the eastern edge of the site. The SMART station, meanwhile, is on the west side of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, next to Highway 101, about a half-mile walk away. That’s about the same as from the Railroad Square station in Santa Rosa to Mac’s Deli on Fourth Street.

The concern whether visitors or commuters might walk that far was one of the reasons Santa Rosa started a shuttle bus circulating among the station, downtown and parking garages.

Ever forward looking, Mansourian said he now will turn the agency’s full attention to expanding the line north, past the Sonoma County Airport to Cloverdale, completing the entire 70-mile route originally promised to voters.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 707-521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @srcitybeat.

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