[caption id="attachment_58027" align="alignright" width="300"] A fleet of 12 "diesel multiple unit" railcars are under construction for the SMART commuter rail system[/caption]

PETALUMA -- Plans for a commuter rail station near Charles M. Schulz--Sonoma County Airport formally rolled forward on Wednesday, following key votes by North Bay and Bay Area transit agencies.

In simultaneous meetings, the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit board of directors approved plans to include that station in the rail system's initial operating segment, and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, on which SMART director Jake Mackenzie serves, green-lighted $16.7 million in funding. SMART's approval of the new station was contingent on that money.

It was the final piece of the $21.8 million needed to construct the station and upgrade existing track.

It has been among the closest-watched efforts by SMART, which included a mention of a possible airport-area station in its 2006 environmental impact report but had yet to establish official plans for construction.

"To add a station we didn't even plan is incredible," said SMART director Debora Fudge during the meeting.

Those MTC funds come from a pool of Bay Area bridge toll dollars authorized under 2001′s Assembly Bill 1171. SMART also pledged $700,000 in funding from the Measure Q sales tax that helps fund the project, and the Sonoma County Transportation Authority allocated $4.34 million from SMART's share of the Measure M transportation sales tax.[poll id="100"]

The board also voted to accept an addendum to its project environmental impact report that found no significant additional impact from the station proposal.

While the station's specific design has yet to be finalized, the general outline provided by the addendum document provided some framework for understanding its configuration. The station will be near a planned SMART operations and maintenance facility at 1210 Airport Blvd. -- roughly one mile east of the airport -- and could feature around 54 parking spaces.

Board member and public comments centered largely on the number of parking spaces and availability of convenient bicycle parking, as well as the desire for the station design to entice riders in one of the denser areas for jobs in Sonoma County.

"I think it should be a signature station, so that everyone driving up and down Airport Boulevard doesn't see a parking lot -- they see a SMART station," said David Rabbitt, a member of the SMART board.

The station is expected to be operational when SMART begins service in 2016. It will be the system's northernmost terminus at opening, though the system is planned to extend as far north as Cloverdale when sufficient funding becomes available.

SMART was planned to open with a northern terminus at Guerneville road, four miles to the south, before the decision. That station was also farther north than had been anticipated before the award of the agency's first construction contract.

"Two years ago we were in downtown Santa Rosa. Look how far we've come, two years later," said Farhad Mansourian, general manager of SMART. "By going to the airport, we're that much closer to Windsor, and that much closer to Cloverdale."

The passenger rail system and corresponding bicycle-pedestrian pathway are currently planned to begin service with a southern terminus in downtown San Rafael. But the chance that the system will extend to the Larkspur ferry terminal at launch has appeared more likely in recent months, 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 Larkspur extension, with the potential to award further funding for a projected estimated to cost $40 million.