Facts behind the rhetoric on Measure R's quarter-cent sales tax for commuter rail line
Decades of debate have come down to this: Does passenger rail have a place in the 21st century North Bay?
The debate has ebbed and flowed as various proposals to reintroduce train service in Sonoma and Marin counties have been launched.
The latest - Measure R - is a quarter-cent sales tax to pay for rail service through the two counties and is arguably the most detailed plan to date.
True to historic form, the debate has been wide-ranging and intense.
And only the most basic elements are undisputed.
Both sides agree trains would run on
70 miles of track, traveling south from Cloverdale into Marin County and back, and would not run on weekends.
But fundamental aspects of the plan have ignited debates that have played out in editorial pages, campaign forums and public meetings.
Both sides claim ownership of the facts, but for voters awash in campaign rhetoric from a tax-heavy ballot, finding the facts on the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit proposal has been tough going. Here are some of the basics:
Q: What is Measure R?
A: A quarter-cent sales tax that appears on the Nov. 7 ballot in Sonoma and Marin counties.
After rejection of five rail measures in Marin and Sonoma counties since 1990, it marks the first time voters in both counties have voted as a single district on funding for rail in the North Bay.
Q: How much would the rail system cost?
A: According to SMART, construction would cost $433 million, including $46 million for SMART's share of a parallel bike path. Operating costs are estimated at $14.2 million annually for rail, $1.3 million for shuttle bus service and $750,000 for the bike path.
Factoring in 20 years of operation, inflation and the cost of borrowing against future tax revenue, SMART officials put the total cost at $1.4 billion.
Q: Where would it run?
A: SMART would run 28 trains a day on 70 miles of track between Cloverdale to Larkspur, stopping at 14 stations. The project also includes a continuous, parallel bike and pedestrian path.
Q: Would the trains run at night or on weekends?
A: No. One midday train is proposed - the rest of the service would occur during peak morning and afternoon/evening commute hours.
Q: What would it cost?
A: Average one-way fare would be $4, but fares would reflect the distance traveled. SMART has not yet developed a specific rate structure.
Q: How many people would ride it?
A: SMART's environmental impact report said it would average 5,300 one-way trips daily if service starts in 2010.
Assuming most riders would be round-trip travelers, about 2,650 people would use the train daily.
One-way trips are expected to fall to 5,050 by 2025, assuming Highway 101 is widened to three lanes in each direction between Petaluma and Novato.
By comparison, Highway 101 at Steele Lane in Santa Rosa handles about 114,000 vehicles a day, according to Caltrans. At the south end of the line in Larkspur, Highway 101 at Sir Francis Drake Boulevard handles about 170,000.
Q: How would train service affect congestion on Highway 101?
A: According to the EIR, "much of the traffic congestion relief would be found on surface streets paralleling Highway 101, rather than on the freeway itself."