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MTC Awards $12.5M for SMART Connection to Santa Rosa Airport

'It was critical that the North Bay be connected to its airport infrastructure,' Sen. Evans announced Wednesday.

There's a fresh question to ask detractors of the commuter rail project being built in Marin and Sonoma counties:

If there were a connection between the Santa Rosa station and the Santa Rosa airport, would that make the line more useful to you?

It's a valid question now because that's what is in the plans. 

On Wednesday, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission finalized a $12.5 million award in regional transportation funding for Phase 1 of the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit project, and that cash is going toward a four-mile extension from the North Santa Rosa station to the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport area. The allotment was approved by the MTC board.

Marin County Supervisor Steve Kinsey, who represents West Marin and the western parts of Novato, is Marin's representative on the MTC board. He said the grant covers most of the $15.5 million project to link SMART with the airport.

Wednesday's vote comes after the Sonoma County Transportation Authority committed to spend $6.6 million for an additional train set to serve the extension to the airport and northern Santa Rosa stations. Kinsey said the MTC agreement requires SMART to put up to an additional $2.4 million into the extension project if there are savings during construction of the initial operating segment from Santa Rosa to San Rafael.

"This is a significant investment opportunity for SMART, allowing the rail system to serve a growing regional airport along the line," Kinsey said. 

The airport, which has two runways, is amid a major expansion as it attempts to serve more North Bay customers. A year ago, the County of Sonoma Board of Supervisors approved certification of the environmental impact report and approved the airport's master plan, which includes adding about 1,000 feet to the main runway.

Alaska Airlines is the major carrier and offers daily flights, but the airport also serves air cargo, private and corporate flights, military, search and rescue, firefighting, law enforcement and pilot training. The airport is owned by the County of Sonoma and operated by the Department of Transportation and Public Works.

State Sen. Noreen Evans, who represents Marin and southern Sonoma counties, said in a release that it is critical for residents in the North Bay to have connections to airports as well as regional and state passenger rail networks. 

“MTC’s grant to SMART is an instrumental investment in meeting our immediate objectives while also moving our communities closer to the rest of California’s 21st century transportation systems,” she said in the release.

Kinsey said the Santa Rosa extension is expected to increase ridership because of the airport connection as well as the high-employment job center close to the airport. He said this parlays well with the state Legislature's vote last year to commit funds to match a federal high-speed rail grant for a system that will link the southern and northern halves of the state. 

"While that line doesn’t come close to the North Bay, the politics associated with getting the deal approved by the Legislature certainly lubricated this funding commitment," Kinsey said. "So, you could say this is our piece of California’s HSR program." 

The SMART rail line project has been in the works for more than a decade but didn't get its primary funding jolt until 2008 when Marin and Sonoma county voters approved a sales tax increase to support the passenger train. The costs are expected to exceed $300 million. 

In January 2012, SMART fended off a grassroots campaign to cut its local sales tax funding by detractors that said it was a waste of taxpayer dollars, that scant few people would use the system and that the authority was being mismanaged. More pointedly, the opposition said voters approved a system from Cloverdale to Larkspur, not the Phase 1 project between Santa Rosa and San Rafael that is being constructed today. SMART contends that funding will be secured to complete the Cloverdale-to-Larkspur line.

SMART is set up to be an alternative to Highway 101 traffic between Santa Rosa and San Rafael. In the first phase, Novato will get one station in Hamilton and one off North Redwood Boulevard on the north side of town; San Rafael will get one at the Marin Civic Center and another at the downtown transit area. The second phase of the project includes plans to extend the line north to Cloverdale and south to Larkspur.

Evans worked to coordinate local efforts to secure SMART funding and in November made a formal request to MTC urging consideration for investments in expanding both north to the Sonoma County Airport and south to Larkspur, where a heavily used ferry terminal exists. MTC’s programing and allocations committee recommended the fund approval in early January and the full board provided final approval at its meeting Wednesday.

MTC said the SMART extension will enhance the system's productivity and efficiency by linking a growing regional airport and a major employment center via the same section of track that will serve SMART’s Operations & Maintenance Facility, according to Evans' release. It also leverages the investment made recently by the Sonoma County Transportation Authority to fund additional vehicles that make the system capable of offering regular service to additional stations.

“The timing of these funds allows us to expand the reach of Phase 1 in tandem with our 2013 construction packages,” stated SMART board chair Judy Arnold, a Marin County Supervisor who represents Novato. “The grant provides $12.5 million in additional regional funding while requiring a relatively modest local match, and is just one example of how SMART is working to leverage every local taxpayer dollar to the fullest as we deliver the rail and pathway project.” 

Arnold said SMART is "incredibly appreciative" of Evans’ efforts on behalf of taxpayers and the commitment she has shown to an expansion to Larkspur as well.

The SMART train and pathway project is under construction and will provide a new regional transportation backbone with improved transit options for all North Bay residents. The first set of railcars is due to arrive in Sonoma County for testing in the third quarter of 2013, SMART said.

State Senator Noreen Evans represents the Second Senatorial District, including all or portions of the Counties of Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino, Marin, Napa, Solano and Sonoma. Senator Evans Chairs the Senate Committee on Judiciary and is the outgoing Chair of the Legislative Women’s Caucus.

Bob Ratto January 24, 2013 at 01:48 AM
Oh, this is lovely. The little train that could will eventually be taking you to an airport that really doesn't fly anywhere. Meanwhile, there are no shuttles (that I know of) taking people from Sonoma/Marin to Oakland airport. Congratulations MTC, I will send you the bill for flat tires/cracked rims, since the roads will obviously be degenerating, but cynically, I suppose that was the plan.
Kevin Moore January 24, 2013 at 03:43 AM
How about spending that $12.5 million on the tunnel between downtown San Rafael and the San Rafael Civic Center? Is that tunnel project still on time and ON BUDGET? I noticed SMART has an option on another 100 trains. I am sure they have plans to create a network of train tracks in Sonoma and Solano county. Build the system 40% complete, then start other projects. Then have a vast network of partially completed rail lines. At this point, they come back to the voters for more money. "You don't want to throw away a billion dollars, give us another billion dollars."
Kevin Moore January 24, 2013 at 03:45 AM
My cousin lives in Alaska, where the bridges to no where were to be built. One bridge was going to the airport. The other bridge was going to an undeveloped area. Local real estate speculators were going to cash in big if the Feds put up the money to build their bridges.
Kevin Moore January 24, 2013 at 03:51 AM
Will $12.5 million cover 4 miles of track, switches, and stations? Or is that just starter money? In 2008, SMART estimated the cost per mile at $7.7 million. http://www2.sonomamarintrain.org/userfiles/file/3_whitepaper_AltsforCorridor.pdf SMART was designed to be a "north / south" rail system. How will this spur impact trains running north of Santa Rosa? Switching, timing of trains. Oh, I forgot, you no longer care about that part of the system.
Jerome J Ghigliotti Jr January 24, 2013 at 04:05 AM
" the airport also serves air cargo, private and corporate flights, military, search and rescue, firefighting, law enforcement and pilot training." The old Sonoma County airport had been a hub for these activities. When you or a relative needs rescue, you will be glad that SMART wasted $12.5 million on this extension. Some air travellers will find it makes air connections with Oakland/SFO and regional flights. I am curious as to whether it will be a loop or a spur. I support this project.
Lloyd January 24, 2013 at 04:21 PM
I have a more informational question. When will this be up and running? What time will SMART run as the STS plane to LAX leaves at 6am. How long will it take to catch a train from Novato to get to the airport? How much will it cost? and finally where will people be able to park their cars say at the San Marin/Atherton station and how much and how many dedicated parking spots will there be? Just want to see if this has any practical application.
Robert J. Cleek January 24, 2013 at 11:52 PM
File it under "build it and they will come," Lloyd. Sonoma and the feds are expanding the Sonoma Co. airport and it is slated to become a "regional" airport. (Think Oakland and San Jose Airports) There is a lot of commercial development going into the airport neighborhood, including the main SMART maintenance yard. This line funding extends the new high speed rated track from Santa Rosa to the maintenance facility so the SMART cars won't have to cut their speed down to something like 25 MPH to get there. More importantly, people who are working in the airport industrial parks will be able to take SMART up there. As for using SMART to make an airport connection, I think it is reasonable to expect that the airlines and SMART will coordinate their timetables to some extent so that people will be able to use SMART to catch a plane and that the trip time and cost will be less than driving on both scores. Operations are two or three years out into the future, so nobody's freaking out about the micro-details of that just yet.
Al Dugan January 25, 2013 at 06:36 AM
An extension to the Charles Schultz Airport? Really? Is this to facilitate the commute for Snoopy?

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