By BOB NORBERG
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Sonoma-Marin rail agency today will review a worst-case financial scenario of a funding gap that could widen by $36 million if sales tax revenues remain depressed and ridership falls short.
The shortfall increase from $104 million to $140 million is the latest attempt by the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit agency to assess how much money it will have to build a commute line during a struggling economy.
SMART is using an annual estimate of 3 percent growth in sales tax, which is 1 percent less than its consultant, Beacon Economics, recommends.
With that sales tax revenue, the agency foresees a $104 million difference in what it can raise and what it will cost to build the line, which is scheduled to start up in 2014.
If sales taxes grow at 2 percent and ridership is 10 percent less than forecast, the gap could grow to $140 million.
“If you take a very pessimistic scenario, if things are very bad, and that is not what we are expecting, it could be a $140 million gap and we would have to look at other things to cut,” SMART spokesman Chris Coursey said.
SMART estimates that it will cost $470 million to build the initial segment of the line from Railroad Square in Santa Rosa to downtown San Rafael.
It includes $142.6 million to reconstruct the track, $53.7 million for the trains, $44.9 million for a maintenance facility, $42 million for systems, $42 million for a bike and pedestrian path, $40.7 million for stations and $34 million to rebuild the bridge over the Petaluma River.
The ability of SMART to purchase construction bonds depends on sales tax revenues from the quarter-cent sales tax voters approved in 2008.
The new financial estimates also eliminate any expectation of receiving $10 million over 20 years in lease payments from the North Coast Railroad Authority, which has been struggling to resume freight service over the line for the past decade.
SMART staff also will present a list of cost savings that total $106 million. They include delaying stations at Corona Road in Petaluma and in Novato, reducing the pedestrian-bike path by two-thirds, refurbishing instead of replacing the Petaluma River bridge and building a smaller maintenance facility.
The SMART board meeting is at 1:30 p.m. at San Rafael City Hall.