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[caption id="" align="alignright" width="403" caption="SMART General Manager Farhad Mansourian unveils new signage that will accompany construction sites. (Eric Gneckow photo)"][/caption]

SANTA ROSA --  Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit officials have announced the winners of the construction contract bids for the commuter rail line’s first phase: Alameda-based Stacey and Witbeck Inc. and Missouri-based railroad specialist Herzog Contracting Corp.

The $103.3 million SMART contract also will involve the construction of two stations not originally considered in the system’s proposed initial operating segment: the Guerneville Road station, located north of the former terminus in Santa Rosa, and the Atherton station in Novato. The southern terminus for the line remains San Rafael.

SMART staff will recommended the board approve the contract during a special meeting on Jan. 9. If approved, construction is set to begin immediately and is estimated to create 900 jobs.

“This is the first phase of the construction of SMART’s backbone,” said Farhad Mansourian, general manager.

The first phase will involve 37 miles of track, rehabilitation or construction of 20 bridges, initial construction for nine stations and the construction of numerous railroad crossings.

With the additional stations, SMART board member and Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane said staff expected that the first operating segment would serve 80 percent of the expected ridership of a full system.

“The Guerneville station offers the highest amount of ridership, so it was important that we made it there,” she said.

Contract negotiations also resulted in an agreement to repair or replace the Novato Creek bridge, which SMART said is at risk during major flooding. The most recent flooding of that magnitude was in 2005.

SMART put the initial phase to bid last February. The design-build contract requires the contractor to conduct the majority of engineering work as well as construction. Merits of the approach include faster project delivery and cost certainty, Mr. Mansourian said.

Stacy and Witbeck and Herzog have collaborated on rail projects in the past. In 2004, the joint venture completed a $123 million reconstruction of the Lawrence Caltrain station in Sunnyvale, according to information from Stacy and Witbeck.

Oakland-based Shimmick Construction was a runner up for the first-phase contract, with a bid of $114.4 million. Five proposals were closely considered from nine initial offers, Mr. Mansourian said.

Three additional construction contracts will be awarded for the initial operating segment, he said. Bidding will be put on hold while the group RepealSMART collects signatures to repeal Measure Q, a quarter-cent sales tax measure voters in Sonoma and Marin counties approved to help fund SMART in 2008. Bond revenue that would finance further construction is currently in escrow, pending those efforts.

If RepealSMART can’t collect enough signatures by the end of January, proceeds of those bonds will fund construction. If the group does succeed, the funds will remain in escrow until a vote to repeal Measure Q, potentially in November, according to Mr. Mansourian.

RepealSMART co-Chairman Clay Mitchell said that there are more than 250 volunteers collecting signatures for the repeal measure, and it is unknown exactly how many they have accumulated so far. The group has until Jan. 27 to submit those signatures to the registrar of voters.

The group contends that Proposition 218, a state tax measure passed in 1996, sets a 15,000 threshold for placing the measure on the ballot. SMART contends that state election law sets the threshold at 39,000.

Gloria Colter, assistant Sonoma County registrar of voters, said the count would include signatures from both counties. The registrar would accept no less than the lower threshold, and after certifying the results, present them to the SMART board.

Officials estimate that the project will be completed by 2015--16, though Mr. Mansourian said that he is hoping for an earlier completion.