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By Farhad Mansourian

When voters of Marin and Sonoma approved SMART in 2008 to fund a passenger rail line between Sonoma and Marin Counties, they did so with substantial support from the business community. Why? Because business leaders in the North Bay recognized that SMART is good for the economy of the North Bay.

 

Today, SMART is on its way to becoming a reality – and is about to fulfill the promise of jobs in the North Bay. While jobs have already been created to help prepare the rail line, the next phase is about to begin. SMART will soon seek bond financing to ramp up the construction phase. Once the bonding capacity is in place, over 900 new jobs will be created.

 

What’s more, the reality of a train system will spur job creation in both counties. The traffic nightmare between Sonoma and Marin counties is stifling the ability for people to move between home and a job in the other county. That gives businesses pause when they look at citing or expanding in the North Bay.

 

SMART will make a real impact once the trains are rolling. In phase I, commuters will be able to ride the train to and from Santa Rosa and San Rafael – and points in between. That means more riders, a stronger system, and a real alternative to 101 traffic.

 

Speaking of traffic, traffic is not a linear equation. Even a small reduction in traffic from SMART train ridership will have a dramatic impact on ending the bottlenecks on 101. Riders will get to ride free from traffic; drivers will get more opportunities to drive without punishing traffic delays. Solving the quality of life nightmare that is 101 will help attract more businesses to both Marin and Sonoma.

 

Then there are the health benefits of SMART. For many years, the North Bay has been known for its commitment to the environment. The absence of an alternative to the greenhouse gas produced by vehicles along 101 prevents many of us from walking the walk on the environment. SMART will offer a solution, allowing people to get out of their cars. A greener, cleaner county, is also good for business, with the North Bay making the case to greentech companies that their employees will have options for commuting that don’t require them to drive.

 

SMART has remained true to its commitment to the environment by purchasing vehicles that will protect our air. After a public bidding process, SMART awarded a $40 million contract in 2010 to Sumitomo of America to build the first 12 vehicles to run the trains.  These vehicles produce 2 times less CO2, 6 times less NOX and 6 times less particulate than even a new, traditional locomotive.  Sumitomo of America has been serving American Rail Roads for 30 years.

These vehicles are assembled in Illinois, USA and meet the “60% U.S. content requirements” of the Federal Government better known as “Buy America” provisions.

 

And are also a few other health benefits to SMART. Stress-free employees are happy employees. Allowing people to lower the stress in their lives by getting out of their cars will lower the stress levels for North Bay employees, raising their quality of life. This should help North Bay employers attract the workforce they envision for their business, making those that are here more successful and attracting new ones.

 

When we talk about SMART, many people only think about SMART as a commuter train.  In fact, SMART will offer another alternative to the automobile: biking and walking. In the first phase of construction alone, SMART will build 14 miles of multi-purpose path, allowing bicyclists and pedestrians to travel from city to city and county to county along adjacent to the SMART tracks.

 

Nationally, the bicycling industry contributes approximately $133 billion a year to the U.S. economy.  Studies continue to show that investments in bicycle and multi-use paths have numerous economic benefits including tourism, increased revenue for local businesses, job creation, higher property values, and improved health and productivity. 

 

This influx of revenue can attract new businesses and promote job growth in towns along the pathway.  A recent study conducted by the Political Economy Research Institute found that for every $1 million spent on multi-use trails, 9.6 jobs are created within the area that the project is located.  SMART currently plans to spend approximately $28 million on the initial 36-mile segment of the multi-use pathway.  That could result in the creation of up to 270 new jobs in Sonoma and Marin counties. 

 

SMART is an exceptionally complex infrastructure project, creating a new North Bay “backbone” to complement existing transit options in a way that combats congestion and pollution.  SMART will create an enormous public benefit: bringing people to jobs, businesses and recreation, creating hundreds of jobs.

 

Most big public works projects like SMART and BART require several stages to build. This recession has been a struggle for everyone. Like many residents and businesses in Marin and Sonoma, SMART must live within its means. That’s why SMART has rightly prioritized initial service, with the first phase between downtown Santa Rosa and downtown San Rafael. Plans have been laid for phase II to extend the line from Cloverdale to Larkspur and when the funding picture improves.

 

The SMART train and path will serve the North Bay for generations to come.  I and the entire SMART team appreciate the trust placed in us. We will deliver. 

 

There is a train coming to town....Farhad Mansourian is the general manager of Sonoma-Marin  Area Rail Transit. He can be reached at 707-521-0700 or fmansourian@sonomamarintrain.org.