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Sonoma-Marin commuter train's cost to reach Windsor rises to at least $65M

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SMART’s cost to reach Windsor has risen by $10 million to at least $65 million under a newly approved contract that will extend the line by 3 miles to a new station platform and add to the parallel pedestrian and bike path.

Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit officials said the increase was driven by “the cost of doing business” in the North Bay.

“Estimates in construction are a snapshot in time,” said Farhad Mansourian, SMART’s general manager. “Then you go and get bids and then deal with what the real numbers are. They are a reality of what’s happening in the North Bay and construction in the whole Bay Area — the labor, materials, and the cost of doing business.”

The board’s unanimous decision Nov. 6 approved a $48 million contract with Alameda- based rail developer Stacy and Witbeck Inc., plus a $2.4 million contingency for unforeseen costs above the newly established price tag. The new contract adds to the $15.7 million SMART agreed last fall to spend with another vendor for the train’s signaling and high-tech safety system on the new track.

An additional $1.5 million paid for initial design and engineering work as well as environmental and permitting steps on the Windsor leg.

All told, the extension from SMART’s station near the Sonoma County Airport is set to top out at $65 million without overruns. The total cost could exceed $67 million if the contingency fund is tapped to complete the construction, which is set to begin next summer.

By comparison, the 2-mile rail and pathway extension on the commuter line’s southern end to reach Larkspur is set to cost a total of $55.4 million. That includes $38 million for construction and a $1.8 million contingency. The signaling and safety system cost $8.7 million.

“Stuff is so expensive right now, across the board,” said Bill Gamlen, SMART’s chief engineer. “The labor and materials, the demand for labor in Sonoma County, it’s all just a lot more.”

The elevated cost to reach Windsor incorporates $4.2 million for a lane- widening and crosswalk project on Airport Boulevard in the high-traffic area alongside SMART’s operations center and airport-area station. It will remain the northern terminus for the 43-mile line until Windsor is added, with the earliest estimate by SMART pegged at late 2021.

That roadway work will be covered by the county, said Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt, a SMART board member.

“The county is taking this opportunity to fix that piece of Airport Boulevard,” he said. “It just makes sense that if you redo the rail and redo the crossing, then you make the road the way you want it. We’ll just move it up and do it now.”

SMART has enough in outside grant funding committed to the project to cover the inflated price of the Windsor extension. The funding includes $20 million from the state, a $5 million Federal Railroad Administration award for the signaling system and $40 million from Regional Measure 3, a hike in Bay Area bridge tolls that voters approved in June 2018.

Spending of the majority of the bridge toll money will be restricted as the ballot measure remains tied up in a prolonged court fight.

A San Francisco Superior Court judge threw out a pair of lawsuits over the toll hikes earlier this year, but they were consolidated on appeal last month, preventing release of $4.5 billion committed to a number of major Bay Area transportation projects.

If the appeal is rejected and transit agencies receive their dedicated funding, SMART expects to hit a late 2021 opening date for service to Windsor, according to Gamlen. If it remains unresolved for an extended period, the lawsuit could delay completion of the northern extension and cost SMART more money because a provision in the contract.

“If a year from now (Regional Measure 3) is not settled and the money is not flowing, then we have to go back to the contractor. Then we’ll have to pay something,” Mansourian said. “We’re excited about finishing this one, the pathway and the rail, and going forward onto the next stop, which is Healdsburg.”

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or kevin.fixler@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @kfixler.

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