Nineteen months after a campaign to eliminate the quarter-cent sales tax in Marin and Sonoma counties to pay for the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit train failed to get on the ballot, SMART officials announced they'd cleared a key hurdle in getting the San Rafael-to-Larkspur leg built. That section's exclusion from the first phase of the project because of a funding shortfall was a central argument made by the RepealSMART group at that time.
"When we started this process some said it couldn't be done," SMART board chair Judy Arnold said in a statement. "But here we are, and it's because every board member representing every community is determined to complete the entire project to both the north and to the south in the shortest time possible. We're set to work with our other regional partners to get this done."
SMART officials said Tuesday that the Federal Transit Administration had determined that the commuter rail project, originally planned to extend from Cloverdale to Larkspur, is eligible to enter the project development stage for the "Small Starts" program and is able to apply for a federal government grant for the work. SMART officials said its inclusion in the program allows them to use a $2.5 million federal grant to pay for environmental and engineering work for the San Rafael-to-Larkspur segment.
SMART officials said that the Small Starts program requires a funding plan that includes non-federal money to which federal construction dollars can be allocated. Matching funds are required, and can come from local, regional and/or state funds. Local funding beyond the minimum makes a project more competitive in the federal process, they said.
SMART has estimated that the San Rafael-to-Larkspur leg will cost around $35 million. The $360 million San Rafael-to-Santa Rosa portion is under construction and is expected to be finished by early 2016.