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SMART urged to delay $91 million bike path

By BOB NORBERG
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Marin County Grand Jury is urging the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit agency to postpone its $91 million pedestrian-bike pathway as a way to help solve a funding shortfall that may jeopardize the launch the commute rail line on schedule.
The grand jury report also is critical of the retirement system set up for the 10 Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit agency employees, calling it generous and unsustainable, and suggests that it be reconsidered. Jurors also called for SMART to undergo an independent audit.
“This project, which appeared to be achievable less than two years ago, now faces overwhelming obstacles,” the report states. “The Grand Jury urges the SMART Board to provide the leadership required to surmount these significant challenges.”
The report, “SMART: Steep Grade Ahead,” was released Friday.
In a written response, SMART said that during the past 20 months it has reached many of the same conclusions.
“Because of the difficult economy, SMART does face financial obstacles, as the report suggests. We are working to address those obstacles and, as the report indicates, the decisions made by the Board of Directors over the next six months will be critical to the success of the project.”
SMART spokesman Chris Coursey said any other response will be made by the agency’s board of directors.
SMART is being funded by a quarter-cent sales tax passed by voters in 2008 that had been projected to generate $890.7 million over 20 years. Because of the economic downturn, sales tax projections are down 5 percent and construction costs increased 9 percent, creating a shortfall currently estimated to be $155 million.
SMART has been operating under a plan that calls for starting service on the 70-mile line from Cloverdale to Larkspur in 2014. Consultants are now updating construction estimates, looking for cost-cutting measures and revising tax revenue projections.
The new figures will be considered by SMART directors in October and November.
The Marin Grand Jury report states that “a viable and sustainable alternative to Highway 101 is essential for the environmental and economic vitality of both Marin and Sonoma counties” and commends the civic leaders who have worked the past two decades to make it happen.
However, a single-track line that serves passengers and the North Coast Railroad Authority freight trains “will place a significant burden upon SMART to manage this opportunity safely and wisely.”
The Grand Jury recommends that SMART design rail cars that have the maximum number of seats rather than worrying about cars with bathrooms, snack bars and bicycle racks.
It also recommends the $91 million pedestrian-bicycle path that is to run alongside the rail line be deferred until alternate funding can be found.
It will be incumbent on SMART’s decision-makers to focus on the ‘people-mover’ aspect of the train,” the Grand Jury said. “The ‘ambiance’ or ‘experience’ of rail travel should be a secondary goal.”
The pedestrian-bicycle path was a selling point crucial to getting voters to approve the measure, and bike storage makes the rail system more attractive to riders, said Christine Culver, executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition.
“I think they would be making an enormous error removing the path; it would make the public very unhappy,” Culver said.
The Grand Jury recommends that SMART undertake an independent program audit as it progresses with decision-making this year, and that it increase the number of members on, and the powers of, an independent Citizens Oversight Committee.
It criticizes a SMART policy of paying the employees’s share of CalPERS retirement plan contributions, which equal about 7 percent of salaries. For the present staff of 10 workers, that’s about $60,000 a year, but will increase as the staff size grows. That cost is in addition to the employer’s share, which is about 12 percent of salaries.
SMART officials said, however, that is a policy the board of directors already has planned to reconsider.
The Grand Jury also recommends that SMART come up with budget-reduction options, re-evaluate its ridership figures and adopt a marketing plan to maximize ridership.





24 Responses to “SMART urged to delay $91 million bike path”

  1. Jason Valez says:

    The smart train has been a boondoggle from the start. It will never take people where they really want to go, to San Francisco or Oakland. Any meaningful mass transit will have to get us there in a reasonable amount of time. A bike path is a nice touch but unessential. The smart train was pushed over the top by incessant cheerleading by the progressives that are in love with rail. Their smartgrowth agenda mostly focusses on getting everyone to live in crowded, high-density developments along the train line. These areas are almost entirely within redevelopment areas and developers can get rich tax subsidies when they do these types of developments. The redevelopment lobby is huge and they have incorporated the environmentalist movement to help them in their endless quest to get areas declared blighted. The smart train is symbolic of the marriage between the tax-sucking redevelopment boosters and the do-gooder global warming alarmists that now control the politics in our area.

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  2. Jim Stewart says:

    This is the stupidest thing I have seen in a long time. Not one of these connected cities has a decent public transit system to move people away from 101… This will be like the Ferry System. $250 mil a year bloat for maybe 200 people a day. It’s no wonder this state is BK.

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  3. Michael says:

    Keep the bike racks and bathrooms; delay the bike path and nix the snack bar.

    Thumb up 6 Thumb down 3

  4. Jay says:

    job creation! lol…

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 4

  5. Jim says:

    @Jay Right, right. So now there is going to be a SMART police squad to enforce ticketing on the bicycle pathway. And that will save money how?

    I initially thought SMART would be a good idea from an alternative transportation to using 101. But it’s clear that this is just another typical government funded bureaucracy that will cost three times what it should and take twice as long to complete leaving taxpayers on the hook.

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  6. Jay says:

    Simple solution; mandate bicycle registration and make it a violation to ride a bike without registration.

    God forbid we actually make the people who use services pay for them.

    Thumb up 6 Thumb down 5

  7. John Comeau says:

    “Yes the bike/pedestrian path has always been part of the plan they we voted on and should be built at some point. But the main focus of SMART has always been to provide an alterative to driving a car on 101.”

    A bike/pedestrian path *is* an alternative to driving a car on 101, and a very useful one. Sure I’d like to have a train, with or without snack bars. But I’d rather have a safe and direct means of bicycle and foot transit. This: http://maps.google.com/?ll=38.185166,-122.600832&spn=0.000972,0.002642&t=k&z=19 (the bridge at the Sonoma/Marin boundary with no southbound shoulder) isn’t it.

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  8. Lyn says:

    I don’t understand. That SMART’s retirement plan is generous is probably a given, but how will cutting it solve SMART’s shortfall of millions of dollars?

    They are deep underwater. That taxpayers aren’t going to get what the voted for, at least not for the price promised, was obvious before the election.

    There’s a lesson to be learned here. Those preaching a Utopian vision of mass transit on a shoestring budget should not be believed. The goal was to get it passed and then worry about where to come up with the money to finish it. Now the squeeze begins.

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  9. John says:

    If this is supposed to be a rail system to get get commuters off 101, then the priorities need to be rail transit first, bike paths and snack bars second.

    If they’re $155 million short, delaying the $91 million bike path will reduce the deficit to $64 million and maybe even get the train to Windsor instead of Petaluma in 2014.

    Kudos to the Marin Grand Jury for attempting to inject some common sense into the not-so-SMART folks.

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  10. raymond says:

    The 60,000 dollars toward retirement for ten employees at 7 percent means they are paid an average of 88,000 per year. Where can I apply.

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 3

  11. Beef King says:

    I can’t believe the SMART! board is trying to tell us that we should do without what we voted for in order to supply them with an early and fat retirement program.
    Is there a union involved in the train operation?

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  12. Share the road? says:

    OH YIPPEEE!!! I cant cait to get on that bicycle path and inhale all that monoxide!!! That is gonna up my fittness a whole lot!!! I think I’ll just drive my car on 101 even after im done paying for the lame bike path.

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  13. Lifespeed says:

    Pork and all other legitimate objections aside, bike racks on trains are very important to make mass transit actually useable. The train will not let you off anywhere near your final destination in most cases.

    Bike racks on trains are a critical part of the transportation link. Witness Caltrain in the bay area.

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  14. Kendall says:

    This is exactly why I voted NO on SMART. Instead of focusing on getting a viable commuter system built, they are signing on to the bloated gov’t retirement system. Essentially lining their own pockets at the taxpayer’s expense.

    I suggest you look at the most reliable and structured train system in the world, Japan’s, and mirror their operating model. Efficiency, reliability and cost conscience plans need to be part of the process.

    Just because the tax increase passed doesn’t excuse SMART from their responsibility to fulfill the promises made and be held accountable to those paying the tab.

    I’m all for someone taking them to task, whether it is a Grand Jury or a repeal of the tax increase by the voice of the people that were misled.

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  15. Steve Klausner says:

    Ironically, the most important link in the bicycle path, that stretch between Petaluma and Novato, is not along the rail line or intended to be built by SMART. No one ever planed to fill wetlands for bicycles, it’s in SMART’s EIR.

    The path is aligned with Hwy 101, and will be built by CalTrans when they expand the Narrows to 4 lanes.

    Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  16. Lyn says:

    As others have said, why is it that local government can longer fund its core responsibilities yet come up with money for so many other things?

    Yep, voters approved the tax increase for SMART. Shame on them. Some of these same voters will now lament the disintegration of the area infrastructure, parks and other services, and then find someone, other than themselves, to blame.

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  17. Was Mike Arnold on the Grand Jury?

    Over 70% of Sonoma and Marin County Voters approved the SMART Rail measure, and it is coming- but yes, we are in a new economic situation. It makes sense to me that the Board of Directors, composed of 5 Electeds from Marin and 5 Electeds from Sonoma, take long and hard looks at all components of the system, and devise a plan that delivers service fastest to the most people in both counties.

    I guess the Grand Jury in Marin is bored and has little else to do but play with the choo-choo it’s finally getting to share with Sonoma.

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  18. FastEddy says:

    A $91 Million dollar bike path? The path is already there except for the Petaluma River crossing … This must be the money for those new “SMART” office redecorations. How about we see than money spent on a sales tax refund?

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  19. ()() says:

    If you look up the meaning of the acronym SNAFU, it fits the (not so) Smart Train planning process perfectly. In truth, I do support a commuter train in the North Bay. It’s just that these people in charge of ther dumb train don’t seem to know what the heck they’re doing.

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  20. @Steele says:

    Tax rates are the lowest they’ve been in 60 years. Quit your yammering about lower taxes.

    Thumb up 9 Thumb down 14

  21. Beef King says:

    Thanks to the PD for the enlightening report. So many questions…before I put them out, I want to be on record supporting the train, WITH bicycle racks and bathrooms. Do we really need snack bars?
    1. How did the SMART (it is difficult to write that acronym without chagrin) team miss their projections so badly? When this was passed the recession was in our faces. In the real world, this team is fired on that miscue alone.
    2. Who are the REAL decision makers at SMART?
    I was hoping that someone could reign in the ‘progressive’ influence of Deborah Fudge, but it looks like I was wrong. These pie-in-the sky numbers are embarrassingly off the mark.
    3. Why does the SMART executive team have to get on its knees in submission to a Marin County Grand Jury???? How does a grand jury even become part of the discussion? It smells like fools and corruption got tangled up.
    4. How do we change leadership at SMART?

    Thanks to the Grand Jury for spanking our SMART bunch of rail thinkers.
    And sincere thanks to anyone who will take the time to answer my four questions about SMART.

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  22. Council Watcher says:

    SMART will provide an alternative to 101 for commuters who now have no choice. Whether they are travelling from Windsor to Santa Rosa or Novato to San Rafael or the length of the line from Cloverdale to Larkspur, the train will give them a faster, less polluting, more relaxing and – should they choose to use their commute time for work – more productive commute than they could have in a car.

    The above statement was taken from the SMART website. This is what we were sold. The main objective of the SMART train was to get cars off of 101. Not to fund the crazy pork that has made it’s way on to the tax payer’s plate. Calipers retirements, wine bars, toilets, bike racks on the train, new station locations, affordable housing and living wages all have managed to some how be added to SMART’s purview.

    Yes the bike/pedestrian path has always been part of the plan they we voted on and should be built at some point. But the main focus of SMART has always been to provide an alterative to driving a car on 101. The Grand Jury is right on. The SMART board needed to wake up and start working on the delivering a train and stop pandering their “progressive” supporters.

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  23. Steele says:

    Thank god, for a minute there I thought the whole world went crazy.
    Its time for an ugly break-up. Call a mayday on the whole deal and lower the sales tax.
    I promise to think about riding my bike or taking public transportation. I’ll even buy one of those cloth grocery bags.

    Thumb up 20 Thumb down 17

  24. Karla Sofen says:

    Can we please just fix the school system, fix the potholes, keep the jail running, get the County dump cleaned up, and clean up the graffiti before we spend more money on these boondoggles? Why can’t the County government just take care of essential county matters? Why is this even an issue? Why are they posturing on Arizona’s immigration laws instead of doing the business of the people who put them in office. Clean sweep next election or recalls immediately.

    Thumb up 26 Thumb down 15

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