In a feel-good groundbreaking ceremony on Friday at Petaluma’s historic depot, Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit officials and local politicians praised the project that had been a North Bay dream for years, saying it would stimulate the economy, reduce traffic and green house gas emissions, and foster a sense of community between Sonoma and Marin counties.
Quoting John F. Kennedy, SMART boardmember and Sonoma County Supervisor and SMART Chairwoman Valerie Brown said the project at first seemed “like a journey to the moon,” that called upon the energy and skills of regional leaders to make it a reality.
“It’s a challenge we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone and one we intend to win,” Brown said to a group of more than 300 people who gathered for the ceremony. “And we are winning. There is a train coming to town.”
Work has already started on portions of the line, with the first phase running 38.5 miles between downtown San Rafael and Santa Rosa. Eventually, the line will cover 70 miles from Cloverdale to Larkspur, allowing direct access to San Francisco ferries. Trains will run 15 times a day in each direction.
“We are here because people had vision, because a group of people decided to protect their right of way and preserve billions of dollars for public property in order to do this,” said SMART’s general manager Farhad Mansourian.
SMART has signed a $103 million contract with Stacy and Witbeck Inc. and Herzog Contracting Corporation for the work, which is expected to be completed by 2014. Twelve energy-efficient, clean diesel train cars have been purchased from Nippon Sharayo USA for $49 million.
In addition to 14 stations in the two counties, SMART will also build a network of bicycle and pedestrian paths to connect commuters to train stations.
The project, which began in earnest after voters approved a quarter cent tax in 2008, has been mired by decreased sales revenues and controversy, including a repeal effort by critics who said that the original plans had been significantly altered and should not be funded with taxpayer monies.
The repeal effort failed last month when proponents couldn’t gather enough signatures to place it on the ballot. The effort was not mentioned outright, but alluded to by several speakers, including Rep. Mike Allen.
“To the critics, I say, why don’t you try to make it better?” Allen said. “There are two ways to criticize: One is to stand outside and throw rocks and the other is say we want to work with you to make this the best project we can.”
Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Petaluma), who is retiring this year, called the project a longtime coming and said the train would not be possible without a significant infusion of federal and state dollars.
“This is a historic moment…and the bottom line is this— we simply can’t meet our regional transportation needs by building new roads and expanding new ones,” Woolsey said. “So for the sake of the livability of our planet, we have to find new ways to move ourselves from home to work, from here to there, from we are to where we want to go.”
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