Small Starts Funding Cut Jeopardizes Critical SMART Train Extension

After a Senate committee slashed the Small Starts grant program, the new Marin-Sonoma "SMART" train may not be extended from San Rafael to the Larkspur ferry landing, a critical link enabling rail commuters to take the ferry to San Francisco.

2 minute read

August 14, 2015, 11:00 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid


"Funding to extend commuter rail service from San Rafael to Larkspur could be in jeopardy after a U.S. Senate committee sliced a program that holds money for the planned train line addition," writes Mark Prado for the Marin Independent Journal.


Credit: Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART)

The Larkspur extension was set to receive $20 million after "the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee approved $330 million as part of the Federal Transit Administration’s 'Small Starts' grant program as outlined in President Obama’s new budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year," writes Prado. "But when the Senate Appropriations Committee got hold of the budget, it cut the Small Starts funding from $330 million to $30 million," making that funding unlikely.

“The Senate all but gutted the Small Starts program,” Farhad Mansourian, SMART’s general manager, told the rail board last week. “Trying to get $20 million out of a $30 million national pot is hard."

Small starts was to supply 53 percent of the $42 million cost of the 2.1-mile extension, according to a Nov. 2014 FTA document [PDF], with the remaining provided by the Regional Measure 2 program [PDFadministered by the Bay Area Toll Authority, a division of Metropolitan Transportation Commission.  

"This bill slashes funding for transit systems across the country," reads a June 23 summary of a Senate Appropriations Committee markup of a Transportation, Housing And Urban Development [THUD], And Related Agencies Fiscal Year 2016 Appropriations Bill.

  • Federal Transit Administration - New Starts:  The bill funds the transit New Starts program at $1.6 billion, which is $336 million less than the House bill, $535 million less than fiscal year 2015, and $1.7 billion less than the President’s budget request.  This is the lowest level provided for the New Starts program in ten years. 

According to the FTA's Introduction to New Starts, "(a)nnually, $200 million of this funding is set-aside for 'Small Starts;' that is, major transit capital projects costing less than $250 million, and requiring less than $75 million in Small Starts resources."

Prado goes on to describe the extension from San Rafael to the ferry terminal at Larkspur in southern Marin County and frustration with a "dysfunctional Congress," as SMART chairwoman and Marin Supervisor Judy Arnold put it.

Due to sales tax revenue shortfalls, "the project is being phased, and a $428 million San Rafael-to-Santa Rosa line is under construction and set to open in late 2016," adds Prado.

As for the critical Larkspur extension, "We are continuing as though the money is coming," stated Mansourian.

Monday, August 10, 2015 in Marin Independent Journal

Aerial view of Oceanwide Plaza skyscrapers covered with graffiti tags.

LA’s Abandoned Towers Loom as a “$1.2 Billion Ruin of Global Capital”

Oceanwide Plaza, shuttered mid-construction after its developer filed for bankruptcy, has stood vacant on prime Los Angeles real estate since 2019.

May 21, 2024 - The Architect's Newspaper

Entrance to a drive-through car wash at night with green 'Enter' sign.

Ohio Towns Move to Ban New Car Washes

City officials in northeast Ohio are putting limits on how many car wash facilities can open in their towns.

May 16, 2024 - News 5 Cleveland

Acela train at Wilmington station in Wilmington, Delaware.

The Passenger Rail Revival Is Here

For the first time in decades, multiple rail projects are moving forward that could have a transformative impact on train travel in the United States.

May 21, 2024 - Route Fifty

California Governor Gavin Newsom announcing funding for tiny home shelter project in front of quick-build tiny home shelter unit.

California’s Tiny Home Pledge Still on Paper, One Year Later

A promise to fund 1,200 tiny homes for unhoused residents in four cities as a way to rapidly and cost-effectively provide shelter has yet to yield tangible results, but projects are moving ahead in some cities.

7 hours ago - CALmatters

Residential neighborhood in Colorado with fall foliage and snowy mountains in background.

Colorado Ends Non-Family Occupancy Limits

Local jurisdictions will no longer be able to limit how many unrelated adults can live in a household, a move that supporters say will help lower housing costs and help older adults supplement their incomes and stay in their homes.

May 24 - Strong Towns

A white crosswalk painted by Crosswalk Collective LA in Los Angeles, California.

Guerilla Urbanism Spurs Action From Cities

Rather than take a hostile approach to DIY urbanism, some cities are using guerilla efforts as an opportunity to understand critical infrastructure gaps.

May 24 - Smart Cities Dive

News from HUD User

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Call for Speakers

Mpact Transit + Community

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.