Could mean system would open with Larkspur to airport service
SANTA ROSA — Construction of the North Bay’s commuter rail system took another significant step forward on Wednesday after a major Bay Area transit committee approved $16.7 million in new funding to construct a station near the Charles M. Schulz–Sonoma County Airport north of Santa Rosa.
If finalized by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, that regional transit funding would be the final piece in the estimated $21.8 million project to extend Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit’s northern terminus four miles north to Airport Boulevard.
The addition of a station near the growing commercial airport and business area has been among the closest-watched efforts for SMART, which is planning to begin service on an initial corridor between Santa Rosa in Sonoma County and San Rafael in Marin County in 2016. The system is currently slated to launch with a northern terminus on Guerneville Road near Santa Rosa’s Coddingtown Mall.
The recommendation by the MTC Planning and Allocations Committee entails a funding pool of Bay Area bridge tolls funding authorized under 2001′s Assembly Bill 1171. It joins separate regional toll funding under consideration to extend the system south to the Larkspur ferry terminal.
“Each of these timely efforts to extend SMART’s rail and pathway capital project construction both north and south from the core first phase of San Rafael to Santa Rosa creates the possibility that Marin and Sonoma County visitors, as well as visitors from throughout the Bay Area, will have passenger rail access from Larkspur to the Sonoma County airport from the first day of revenue rail service in 2016,” wrote State Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, in a letter to the MTC.
The approval by the MTC committee follows a $4.34 million funding allocation for the project by the Sonoma County Transportation Authority on Monday, part of SMART’s share of the Measure M sales tax. SMART has also previously committed $700,000 for the extension.
The MTC in January set aside $11.7 million in funding for the extension, but waited to decide on a final award until further engineering was completed.
Talk of an airport-area station accelerated following the April 2012 announcement that SMART would construct its maintenance facility on former Sonoma County Water Agency land at 1210 Airport Blvd. Yet engineering hurdles remained. While trains could travel slowly on the four-mile stretch of existing track, traveling safely at higher speeds would require the same continuously welded track and concrete ties being installed elsewhere in the system.
The economic future of the airport area has drawn continued interest in recent years. The Association of Bay Area Governments identified the airport area as an employment investment area in 2012, and projected that the 5,000 jobs in the area would expand to 17,000 by 2040, according to material presented to the planning committee. And extension of the airport’s runways to comply with new federal standards has also inspired a real possibility to attract larger aircraft and new destinations for the North Bay’s only commercial airport.
While the SMART board of directors will meet at the same time as the MTC on Wednesday, it is possible the board may take some action concerning the airport station.
Efforts to extend the system to Larkspur took a step forward in October after the Transportation Authority of Marin endorsed an $11.4 million allocation by the MTC under another pool of toll funding, Regional Measure 2. The Federal Transit Administration awarded $2.5 million in September to fund engineering for the extension, with the potential to award further funding for a projected estimated to cost $40 million.
SMART in November awarded a nearly $70 million contract to Oakland-based Shimmick Construction. That was the rail agency’s largest single contract award since its first $103 million construction contract in January 2012. That contract involves a relatively complex stretch into downtown San Rafael, along with construction of the maintenance facility.
Alameda-based joint venture Stacy and Witbeck/Herzog won that first contract and has so far been the primary force behind construction of the SMART system. The firm has been awarded a combined $179.8 million for the project to date and has been working south from Santa Rosa to overhaul the decades-old rail corridor.
Construction is also under way for SMART’s fleet of rail cars, which are being assembled in Rochelle, Ill., by Sumitomo Corp. of America and Nippon Sharyo.
Sonoma County Transportation Authority voted in late 2012 to awards SMART $6.6 million from a pool of federal allocated funds for congestion mitigation, allowing the agency to purchase a total of eight of the 158-seat vehicles known as “diesel multiple units.” The first two-car set is expected for delivery in early 2014.
Sonoma and Marin county voters approved a quarter-cent sales tax measure in 2008 to help fund SMART known as Measure Q. The MTC also approved $13.5 million in toll funds for a 10-mile rail extension of Bay Area Rapid Transit connecting Pittsburg and Antioch via the Pittsburg/Bay Point Station, a project estimated to cost over $500 million.
The SMART line is planned to operate eventually between Larkspur and Cloverdale.
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