PETALUMA -- Officials from the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit District took part in a ceremonial groundbreaking in Petaluma today to celebrate the start of construction for a commuter rail system that is planned to span the entire length of Sonoma and Marin counties.

[caption id="attachment_49592" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="The Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit District celebrated the beginning of construction with a ceremonial groundbreaking in Petaluma. (Eric Gneckow photo)"][/caption]

On a stage near the city’s historic train depot, SMART’s board of directors and staff joined a number of regional politicians in praising the beginning of the project. Work for the first contract, involving underlying infrastructure between Santa Rosa and San Rafael, began Jan. 10.

Board Chairman and Sonoma County Supervisor Valerie Brown called SMART a “generational” endeavor, linking today’s groundbreaking to the preservation of the system’s right-of-way 30 years ago.

“The measure of that endeavor is the turnout that we see today,” said Ms. Brown, addressing a a few hundred project members and supporters.

Also in attendance were Congressmembers Lynn Woolsey and Mike Thompson, state Senators Mark Leno and Noreen Evans and state Assemblymen Michael Allen, Jared Huffman and Wes Chesbro.

Rep. Woolsey, who represents San Francisco, Marin and Sonoma counties in the U.S. House of Representatives, said that the SMART project was “a long time coming” and that she has lobbied for federal funds to help construction.

“I’ve spent the better part of the last 20 years on the freeway between San Francisco and Santa Rosa,” she said, “Those are hours I’ll never have back.”

SMART’s first construction contract, at a cost $103 million, will involve a stretch just short of the 38.5-mile "initial operating segment." Service is expected to begin in 2015--16. The remaining distance into downtown San Rafael involves further complications and will be built through a different contract, with up to two additional contracts required to account for all of the work necessary to complete the project.

At full construction, SMART will span from Cloverdale in Sonoma County to Larkspur in Marin. The additional stretches are on hold, however, due to economic pressures.