By BOB NORBERG
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Sonoma-Marin rail agency on Tuesday reviewed a list of cost-cutting measures ranging from deferring train stations to trimming a bicycle-pedestrian path as it struggles to build a commuter line.
The list of cutbacks, totaling $106 million, are meant to close the funding gap between what the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit can afford and what it hopes to build.
“There is enough pain here for everybody,” said Charles McGlashan, a Marin County supervisor and SMART’s vice chairman. “This project is still worth doing. We have to start service in 2014. We need to get people out of their cars.”
SMART predicts it will cost $470 million to build and operate a line from Railroad Square in Santa Rosa to downtown San Rafael.
However, with sales tax revenues depressed by the recession, SMART estimates it will be able to raise only $161 million by selling bonds. Together with $206 million in available state and federal funds, that leaves a $104 million gap, said David Heath, SMART’s interim general manager.
In a worst-case scenario, if sales taxes are depressed more than expected or ridership doesn’t meet expectations, the gap could be $140 million, according to consultant Sarah Hollenbeck of Public Financial Management of San Francisco.
The cost-cutting measures could save $88 million. They include reducing the pedestrian-bike path, deferring stations at Corona Road in Petaluma and Atherton Drive in Novato, building a bare-bones maintenance facility, reducing the number of train cars the agency purchases and rebuilding rather than replacing the Petaluma River bridge.
Even with those cuts, Heath said SMART would have to rely on finding $16 million in help from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Transit Authority of Marin or the Sonoma County Transportation Authority.
Heath also listed some cuts that he said are not under consideration, including delaying service until 2015, saving $15 million, and eliminating shuttle service, saving $7 million.
The board will meet April 6 to consider issuing bonds and review the cost-cutting measures.
During the three-hour workshop, pleas were made to forestall some of the cuts.
More than a dozen people argued that the pedestrian-bike path was significant in getting voter approval in 2008 in the two counties for a quarter-cent sales tax increase to pay for the transit plan, and will help drive ridership.
A vice president for Fireman’s Fund Insurance in Novato also urged the board to keep the Atherton station because it would serve 300 of the company’s Sonoma County employees who live alongside the rail line.