Organizers of the SMART rail project in Marin and Sonoma counties provided a progress report on the district's website Wednesday morning and declared that things are going well.
The Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) acting Executive Director Farhad Mansourian issued a strongly worded statement declaring that the future rail line in Marin and Sonoma is alive and well.
"When I took over as acting Executive Director, I promised the SMART Board of Directors that I would help reassess a variety of project assumptions, including construction costs and the financial picture and give them a status report," said Farhad Mansourian.
"I've been doing exactly that and as in all large public works projects there are many moving parts with new information emerging on a regular basis."
Mansourian is the highly-respected Public Works Director for Marin County who is on loan to SMART while the agency searches for a permanent General Manager.
"SMART is a visionary, large-scale transportation project," stated SMART Chairwoman, Sonoma County Supervisor Valerie Brown. "Our acting Executive Director is examining every assumption and the risk factors associated with SMART. We are moving toward finalizing design, permitting and construction issues just as any project must."
"Over the years there have been some assumptions that didn't bear out," said Mansourian. "However, in the grand scheme of things, these are minor issues that can be solved through a combination of new leadership that the Board has put in place and a more conservative approach to costs and revenues."
Mansourian went on to say, "Prior attempts to trim $88 million to balance the SMART budget included some cuts that would produce short term gain and long term pain. Therefore, I have examined options that would allow the SMART Board to reconsider some of these cuts, by exploring new revenue sources that do not involve asking the voters for more money."
Mansourian continued, "From concept to the stage we're at - 30% of design completed - is a complex, time-consuming cost refinement process. We are examining and analyzing the data and I am planning to bring full disclosure of the status of the project and its financing to a public meeting of the SMART board in August."
"This isn't SMART's first bump in the rail, and it won't be the last," said Chairwoman Brown. "But let me assure the people of Marin and Sonoma that the SMART Board is committed bringing SMART to life and we are working hard every day to find the money to make this budget work - without asking the public to dig deeper into their pockets."
"The expertise and organizational change that SMART now has in place is exactly what has been needed," said SMART Vice-Chair, Marin County Supervisor Judy Arnold. "This is the critical element in restoring public confidence in the project. The entire SMART team is now committed to 100% transparency and the fiscal prudence that a project like this requires. I pledge to the public that the SMART Board is committed to executing the entire 70-mile project, starting with the Santa Rosa to San Rafael portion, in this same manner."
"With interest rates low and construction costs down in the current recession, this is a great time to go out to the financial markets to fund the project and enter into contracts to build it," said Brown. "The public will get much more bang for their tax dollars and that's why we are determined to move ahead with all due speed."
SMART was created in 2003 by the passage of a state bill by former Assemblyman Joe Nation to create a rail service between the two counties. The voters of Marin and Sonoma passed a quarter-cent sales tax to fund the SMART service in 2008. SMART is planning the first leg of the system that will run between Santa Rosa and San Rafael, looking toward opening the rail service in 2014.