By BOB NORBERG
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The bicycling community is resigned to seeing the budget for a pedestrian and bicycle path that would parallel SMART’s Santa Rosa-San Rafael rail line cut by a third as a necessary step to get the commute trains running by 2014.
The pathway was a critical factor in winning voter support for a quarter-cent sales tax to pay for the Sonoma-Marin Area Rapid Transit line. Like the trains, it had been promised as a 70-mile, Cloverdale-to-Larkspur project.
With sales tax revenue and SMART’s ability to raise money by selling bonds severely limited by the recession, SMART has scaled back its plans and is focusing on an initial rail line and pathway from Railroad Square in Santa Rosa to downtown San Rafael.
As part of the cost savings, $14 million for that stretch of bike and pedestrian path is among the $88 million in cuts SMART is considering.
“It does sound like that is what is going to have to happen,” said Christine Culver, executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition. “I am not OK with it, but it is the situation we are all in. Everything is getting cut, not just the path.”
Bicyclists are asking SMART officials to make a commitment that the path will remain a priority and not be discarded as the agency struggles with the gap between how much money it has and what it wants to build.
The proposed $14 million cut from the $42 million pedestrian-bicycle path could mean some gaps in the pathway from Railroad Square to San Rafael, which closely follow the train right-of-way for much of the way, during the first phase of construction.
Other agencies are still on track to build bike path segments, such as Santa Rosa in the city and the Sonoma County Transportation Authority, Marin County and Caltrans for stretches through the Novato Narrows.
The estimated cost is $470 million to build the Santa Rosa-San Rafael stretch of the commute line and operate it for 14 years, which is $104 million more than SMART expects to have in bond sales and other local, state and federal money.
“We need to have a contingency plan on what would be cut to be able to build the system with the money that we will get,” SMART spokesman Chris Coursey said.
SMART staff has a list of $88 million in cuts that include deferring building stations at Corona Road in Petaluma and Atherton Drive in Novato, building a bare-bones maintenance facility and reducing the initial number of trains it buys.
The pedestrian and bike pathway always has been envisioned as a key component of SMART, projected to draw 7,000 to 10,000 users a day for the entire 71-mile, Cloverdale-to-Larkspur line.
An analysis of the cost-cutting measures, along with a priority list, will be given to the SMART board when it meets at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Santa Rosa City Hall council chambers.
The board will meet again April 20 when it is expected to approve selling construction bonds, which financial consultants believe will raise $161 million.
Together with about $206 million that is available in other local, state and federal funds, it leaves a gap of about $104 million to build the Santa Rosa-to-San Rafael segment.
You can reach Staff Writer Bob Norberg at 521-5206 or email@example.com.