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.