The planned Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit passenger train linking the two counties is $155 million in the hole, and SMART officials have suggested using all or part of $91 million intended for the project's bike-and-pedestrian path to cover the rail shortfall.
In turn, federal grants would be sought to pay for the path, which would run parallel to the railroad tracks.
But Deb Hubsmith, advocacy director for the Marin County Bicycle Coalition, told the board at a meeting in San Rafael on Wednesday that while bike advocates are willing to help address the shortfall, they do not want to see the path money taken entirely to cover rail costs.
"We want to be proactive about this," she said before the meeting, referring to protecting the path money. "We need to have the path to go ahead as it was planned."
Hubsmith said bike advocates are willing to lobby for a proportionate amount of the shortfall, which she estimated at about $26 million. But they worry that relying entirely on federal dollars for the path would slow work on that aspect of the SMART plan and reduce the ability of local agencies to get those bike dollars.
Hubsmith delivered a letter to the board signed by other Sonoma and Marin bicycle advocates which read, in part: "The SMART pathway has always been a central element of SMART's project. It is essential that the pathway be constructed as was planned, in conjunction with the train and in accordance with the timeline indicated in Measure Q."
But given the desperate nature of the SMART shortfall, board member and San Rafael Mayor Al Boro said a SMART delegation heading to Washington D.C. next week should inquire about funds for the path.
"We ought to look at whatever may be available to us at the federal level since there apparently is great interest in promoting new ways for people to use their bicycles," he said. "I think you can do that without sacrificing monies that may come to Marin or Sonoma counties if this is pursued in a way that would avoid that."
Boro said later, "One way or the other you want to get the money. If it's more attractive to get the money this way, why not try it?"
Voters in November 2008 approved a quarter-cent sales tax for 20 years to help finance the $540 million project, which included the $91 million for an adjacent bike and pedestrian path. But the downturn in the economy has left the project without full funding and the ability to borrow the needed money to finish the entire project by 2014 as promised.
Since announcing the shortfall in January - brought on by a drop in sales tax revenue - the rail has enlisted the help of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
Officials for the commission - the Bay Area's transportation planning agency - pledged in a meeting with SMART representatives last month to work with the rail agency to try to find money to complete the entire 70-mile Larkspur-to-Cloverdale rail line.
Read more San Rafael stories at the IJ's San Rafael section.
Contact Mark Prado via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org