Extending commuter rail service north to Healdsburg and Cloverdale will cost an additional $364 million — a sum that SMART officials say will be met only if they get clearance to compete for much needed Bay Area transit funding.
Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit officials earlier this month released an updated cost estimate of what it will take to extend service past Windsor to complete the 70-mile line, set to run from Larkspur in the south to Cloverdale in the north. To get the 5 miles from Windsor to Healdsburg, it will take $194 million, including costs for major bridge work to span the Russian River.
The $170 million cost estimate for the next 17-mile stretch to Cloverdale’s already-built rail depot includes track improvements as well as work on the bike and pedestrian pathway set to run the entire 22-mile distance north from Windsor.
But local sales tax receipts won’t be enough to cover those projects in the near term, SMART officials have said, making grant funding a key component and muddying the outlook for any official completion date for the entire rail line. The only publicly stated date for reaching Cloverdale is 2027, as envisioned in the state rail master plan.
SMART’s inclusion on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s blueprint for Bay Area transit projects is the initial step to securing the grant funding it will take to get there, however.
“They’re trying to take this multi-multi-hundred-billion-dollar list into something financially feasible, and we need to be able to get in,” Farhad Mansourian, SMART general manager, told the agency’s board Wednesday at its regular meeting. “The fact is we’ve been denied twice, so this is a very critical year.”
In the two prior four-year planning periods, SMART has been unable to beat out other regional transportation projects to secure funds for its work beyond Windsor. A cost-benefit analysis that includes review of ridership and state greenhouse gas goals, as well as other elements, has instead favored spending limited state and federal transportation funds on other needs in the nine-county Bay Area.
“The short version is that it’s a filter,” said Joanne Parker, SMART’s programming and grants manager. “If there’s a big pot of money for Healdsburg, we’re technically not allowed to apply for it because we’re not in the plan.”
SMART plans to apply for funds to extend north to Healdsburg and Cloverdale as well as for $304 million in other needs — $11 million for a second station in Petaluma, $40 million toward the bike path and more than $200 million for fleet, station and additional rail upgrades.
Also in the running for Plan Bay Area 2050 funding is a shortlist of transportation megaprojects with costs of at least $1 billion. A proposal imagining a future SMART extension to the East Bay over a new Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, submitted by SMART board member and Healdsburg Councilman Joe Naujokas, was named a finalist in the fall. An east-west extension of SMART along a portion of Highway 37 between Novato and Solano County is also under consideration, according to SMART officials.
The MTC is expected to adopt a final blueprint in 2021, permitting grant-funded projects to move forward. The SMART board voted 8-0 Wednesday to endorse and submit $668 million in grant requests, including the plan to go north to Healdsburg and Cloverdale.
SMART system build-out costs
-First 49 miles of the planned 70-mile Sonoma-Marin line: $569 million (Includes current 43 miles of service, plus 3 miles south of San Rafael to Larkspur, and 3 miles north of Sonoma County Airport to Windsor)
-Windsor to Healdsburg 5-mile extension: $194 million (estimated)
-Healdsburg to Cloverdale 16.8-mile extension: $170 million (estimated)
Total: $933 million
Original projected cost for 70-mile line: $541 million