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SMART: On Track but More Time and Money Needed

Interim director recommends increasing the cost of the rail line and pedestrian/bicycle pathway between San Rafael and Santa Rosa by as much as $69 million and delaying its construction.

The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) district's acting executive director Farhad Mansourian today recommended increasing the cost of the rail line and pedestrian/bicycle pathway between San Rafael and Santa Rosa by $57 to $69 million and completing it one or two years behind schedule.

He also outlined $70 to $82 million in possible funding sources and savings measures to offset the increased costs.

The cost of the segment between Santa Rosa and San Rafael was initially estimated at $335 million when it was part of the originally proposed 70-mile rail line and pathway between Cloverdale and Larkspur.

The cost of building the line only between the downtowns of those cities -- the initial operating segment, or IOS -- is estimated at $395 million. Mansourian is now projecting the cost of that segment at $404 million and is forecasting $407 million will be available to build it.

His engineer's analysis of the costs and revenues of the IOS was to be completed by July 27, when the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) is scheduled to approve $21 million in funding for the project, half of it from Marin and Sonoma counties' transportation authorities.

Mansourian is recommending restoring three items that previously were deleted from the San Rafael-Santa Rosa segment in April to help save $88 million.

They include restoring $4.3 million for ticket vending machines, $3.4 million for a closed circuit television system on train station platforms and $5 million to replace the Novato Creek Bridge.

He also is recommending $56 million in cost increases and revisions that include an additional $10 million for engineering, professional services and administrative staff, $11 million for an operations and maintenance facility, $26 million for a "positive train control" signaling and communications system, $4 million for systems and grade crossing work between the Marin Civic Center and downtown San Rafael and $2.8 million for signals and sound buffer medians to create "quiet zones."

Mansourian said SMART can save between $12 and $24 million by delaying the completion of the Santa Rosa-San Rafael segment one to two years to allow time to restore the deleted items.

He also estimates SMART's 3 percent sales tax growth rate assumption is too low, given the current year growth rate of 6 percent.

"It is prudent for SMART to assume an additional 1 percent growth rate over the next several years only, which remains fairly conservative. This would result in an additional $22 million in sales tax revenue during this time period," Mansourian said in his analysis.

Mansourian also said his staff has identified $20 million in "repeated duplications and estimates of project costs, overhead and contingencies."

"This resulted from many different consultants working on separate components of the same project where overlapping cost estimate components were not discovered," Mansourian said.

Addressing and pathway, Manshourian said, "Long-time project opponents have claimed a promise was broken ... this is simply not the case.

"Decision makers in every sector are being asked to downsize, phase or reduce until the economic crisis is over," Mansourian said. "SMART critics recommend that your board simply fold. In my considered view, this is not a viable option," Mansourian said.

"Phasing the project with a reduced initial scope in response to the current economic downturn is the proper course," Mansourian said.

The SMART board of directors will accept and review the report at its Aug. 17 meeting in San Rafael.

--Bay City News Service

Alex Zwissler August 11, 2011 at 01:27 PM
Gentlemen, My previous promise that it would be my last comment in this thread notwithstanding, I feel I need to make a couple of closing points. First, I sincerely commend you for your passion and commitment regarding this issue. You guys are clearly very smart, articulate, and admirably display the strength of your convictions. John, I take you on your word that the tack taken by Repeal Smart is driven by legal requirements and withdraw my claim you are being disingenuous. Phil, I'm afraid I'm going to disappoint you because whatever limited intellect I may have left to me, tells me that a debate around the details is not going to get us anywhere. As I said in my opening post, the data and details are only serving to confirm our biases on the topic. We see them differently, assign different weight to various aspects and come to differing conclusions. I don't seek to change your conclusions. At the end of the day, it comes down to an issue of judgment. As with all complex issues, we sift through a blur of data, analyses, reports and opinions. We weigh the merits, check the sources, confer with colleagues and arrive at a conclusion. New facts and circumstances may change our judgments, or they may not. My judgment is that SMART continues to merit my support. Only time will tell which of us is correct.
Phil Maher August 11, 2011 at 05:39 PM
Just to reiterate what John says- the legal issues behind this have been extremely complex and limiting. For example: Within our core group, it was a very difficult decision to proceed knowing that we would have no choice but to jeopardize the future of the MU path, when our primary issues are with the train and the management of the district. We see this as a tremendous community asset, but one that we weren't able to practically or lawfully isolate. Believe me, we tried our best during the process, and would have no problem supporting any future efforts to bring this aspect back for consideration by the voters as a fully funded and beneficial stand-alone project. From this standpoint, when the MCBC and SCBC take an errant aim at RepealSMART, they also line up their sights on themselves. We're not the ones who created this mess, just the ones who are trying to give the people the ability to clean it up. SMART offers you an ever-shrinking island of diminishing returns, but with a little patience, pragmatism and foresight, maybe what we're proposing could actually give you a seat to go along with the post you have now.
Scott August 11, 2011 at 08:52 PM
As an outside observer to this very interesting, and fairly civil, debate, I think it can be boiled down to one side that has been opposed to the project from the beginning and are looking for more reasons to support their views. Fortunately for them, the SMART administrators are giving them plenty of such support. The other side is populated by ideologues who believe rail is a panacea for many of the transit, environmental and etc. problems that exist despite practically no evidence to support it other than their own view of what should be logical expectations. In reality, it should be clear that this project is like so many other government sponsored big idea projects that have come before it. It will deliver far less and cost fare more than promised. This is an indisputable fact as they've already admitted as much. The question is how much worse will it get. History suggests a lot. In recent memory, I doubt there are many, if any, examples of a similar project that was completed on time, on budget and on scope. Worse, I doubt there are many public rail systems in this country that are sound fiscal footing. Justifying this one is what therapists would call 'magical thinking.'
Phil Maher August 12, 2011 at 02:10 PM
Scott- I largely agree with your take on the framework, and I guess we'll enjoy the civility while we can. What's interesting though is that many people who once supported SMART with their vote have now come to find themselves against it. The founder of RepealSMART, John Parnell, is one such person, and as you point out, SMART itself is responsible for this entirely. I will say this though in defense of the opponents (of which I'm firmly one of)- It's not so much that we're looking for more reasons to support our position, it's that what was wrong before is still present and relevant to the core objections. In fact, not only have the original arguments against SMART been proven to the largest degree, those problems have become exacerbated, not so much as a function of the economy (a widely held misconception being touted by gov't agencies that simply spent beyond their means), but as a result of gross underestimating of costs, mismanagement, and yes, 'magical thinking'.
Austin Morris August 12, 2011 at 03:19 PM
Gentlemen: Scott & Phil, Great exchange, well said my compliments !!

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