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SMART Board On Verge of Bond Funding

Directors to vote Wednesday in Santa Rosa to issue bonds; two construction contracts worth about $8 million expected to be approved.

The commuter rail line along the Highway 101 corridor will take a significant step closer to reality Wednesday if the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit board votes to issue bonds and approve two construction contracts worth more than $8 million.

Ignoring an organized effort to halt funding for the new train system, SMART staff is recommending that the board of directors approve the issuance of a Measure Q sales tax revenue bond, the first step in receiving up to $200 million in funds to build the controversial passenger train system between Santa Rosa and San Rafael.

If that happens, it won’t affect the effort to gather enough signatures to and put the Measure Q funding back in voters’ hands and yank away the chief source of revenue for the train system, said one RepealSMART member.

“We have no plans to change,” said Novato resident John Parnell.

Meanwhile, a pro-SMART rally has been set for noon Thursday by labor leaders, bike coalition members and other SMART backers in Sonoma County. Called "SMART Supporters Rally in Support of Infrastructure Jobs," the event will be at the future Santa Rosa SMART station site at Railroad Square.

According to documents included in the staff report for Wednesday’s meeting, Public Financial Management recommends approval of a resolution to issue multi-modal bonds that “will provide SMART with additional flexibility to address present circumstances as well as provide SMART with low-cost funding at a limited additional risk to the district.”

The multi-modal variable rate demand bonds are long-term securities with interest rates that reset on a short-term basis, and SMART should take advantage of the lowest interest rates in 30 years, Public Financial Management said.

“SMART has continued to move forward with updates of its sales tax projections, solicitation of construction bids, securing of grant funding and finalizing legal documentation,” wrote managing director Bob Rich and consultant Sarah Hollenbeck of PFM. “The construction environment is highly favorable and demonstrated funding will assist in attracting construction commitments.”

If the SMART board moves forward with bond issuance in December, the staff expects to present designs for a significant portion of the 37-mile rail line soon afterward.

The board is scheduled to vote on two contracts Wednesday — one worth $7.26 million to Midvale Electric for crossing signal upgrades and one worth $896,000 for Summit Signal to handle the Black Point Bridge automation project.

SMART has already approved 62 contracts and has spent $82.5 million in capital projects.

The pro-train contingent in Marin and Sonoma counties is eager to see tangible progress on the rail line now that three years have eclipsed since voters approved a quarter-cent sales tax increase in both counties to fund SMART. Meanwhile, the anti-SMART advocates are circulating petitions among volunteers to gather signatures, Parnell said. Saying too many factors have changed since Measure Q was passed in 2008, RepealSMART hopes to collect about 15,000 signatures and get them ratified to force a ballot measure for the June 2012 election.

“We’re trying to get them all back by Dec. 1 to get a count and get a handle on things,” he said. “We’re so grassroots, we intend to do this with volunteers.

“I would think SMART would want this vote done as quickly as possible.”

Wednesday’s meeting starts at 2:30 p.m. (following a 1:30 p.m. closed session) at the Glaser Center, 547 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa.

Alex Zwissler November 18, 2011 at 03:12 PM
"judgment"...ugh
Scott November 18, 2011 at 03:46 PM
Alex your story about the F line is just that, a story, an anecdote. Not proof or even statistically significant evidence. I'm quite sure if scientifically rigorous studies have been conducted their conclusions would be quite the opposite. That opinion is based on the very frequent examples of train systems in the red. The best example if which is Amtrak. It's also based on the well worn observation that our government is a remarkably inefficient steward of taxpayer funds. Given the cost overruns and slashed service levels already experienced with this project, it's clear this is yet another example of such malfeasance. Moreover, your expression that 'feelings' are the driving force behind the supporters, whether evidenced or not, is a woefully inadequate rationale for proceeding. It's ok to use such poor rationale when wasting your money but not mine.
Bob Ratto November 18, 2011 at 03:46 PM
Alex The F Train is simply a marvel. I remember when they first started running, I went down from my office in the City just to watch them, and I remember going "...wow that car used to run in Rome"....I totally relate to the idea you had a lot of frustration in getting it done (nothing but nothing is easy in SF), so, well done. I guess I am trying to look at SMART from what it was proposed as, which is a commuter train. From that perspective, SMART obviously markedly differs in the attraction level from the F line. So, I guess I am sort of look at the two as apples v. oranges. If SMART was proposed as a wine country train (which seems to be what it would be better suited to) it simply would never have passed...San Rafael is not the same as Fisherman's Wharf, and Santa Rosa is not PacBell...but you do shed some positive light on where you are coming from. Thanks for the F train!!!
David Edmondson November 18, 2011 at 04:27 PM
Scott - There is strong evidence of mode preference for rail over bus elsewhere. Since we don't yet have rail in Marin, it expresses itself in ferry vs. bus ridership. Ferry ridership is higher than simple utility would say - it's more expensive and, for most, slower than the bus - and moves independently of bus ridership.
Kevin Moore November 18, 2011 at 04:39 PM
In Marin, SMART failed in 2006, so it was sold in 2008 as a way to get Sonoma commuters off of 101, so the freeways would not be plugged up in Marin for the morning and evening commutes. Now, SMART is being re-sold as a cure for everything in the economy of Sonoma and Marin. It won't solve the commuter mess. Will it lure companies to move to Sonoma? Jobs go where resources are located. How will having a train make Sonoma more competitive against Santa Clara, San Francisco, Austin, Bangalore, Singapore, and others? The 1% vs the 99% - No, I am not talking about the Occupy movement, but who will benefit from SMART. Alex compared the SMART train to the F line in San Francisco, which seems as much of a novelty as a transportation system. I,d compare SMART to the Disneyland monorail. But in SMART's case, the public is paying the cost of the elegant transportation. How cool is it to ride a space train from the hotel to the theme park, rather than ride in a shuttle bus. Back to SMART, we are paying for a feature attraction for new developments. Maybe SMART should be buying old trains like the F line? They look nice, won't go fast, so older tracks will work just fine.

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