The first document was an estimate to complete SMART’s proposed Novato downtown station. The cost was $3.8 million with a 30 percent potential for increased cost for a total of $4.96 million. In this estimate, Positive Train Control was estimated at $650,000, which has now increased to approximately $2.1 million. This is a 323 percent increase.
The second document was the engineering report explaining that, at best, the new Novato downtown SMART station would get alternating trains with the Atherton station. To create a full service Novato downtown SMART station would require another train set, more double tracks between Petaluma and Atherton, and re-engineering the entire operating system of SMART scheduling. No cost is provided, but just a new train set is $7 million. A reasonable estimate would probably be tens of millions of dollars.
The city council approved to build Phase 1 for $2.5 million despite these two documents by SMART. This was rushed through by Councilman Eric Lucan, as he stated the project had to be built to reduce costs before SMART started operations. This was approved with Lucan as the swing vote, despite his possible conflict of interest with a nearby rental property a four-minute walk away. The SMART train operations didn’t actually start operation until over a year and a half later; the delay was due to trouble with Positive Train Control.
The current estimate to complete the Novato downtown SMART station is $7 million. The big item in the increase is the Positive Train Control.
Mayor Josh Fryday has told the Marin IJ the cost increase is due to the fires in Sonoma and Napa that have driven up the cost of construction. This of course makes no sense as the SMART work is completed by contractors that specialize in train construction not residential house builders.
So the questions are many. Was Novato purposefully sold a downtown SMART station for $3.8 million with a reasonable 30 percent potential for increased cost for a total $4.96 million to make the price more reasonable when in fact the actual costs were much higher?
Was the estimate of Positive Train Control at $650,000 a “Trojan Horse” quote to make the overall price within reach of Novato’s limited funding?
Before the Novato City Council vote in January 2016, Novato city staff provided a detailed recommendation that the Novato downtown SMART station not be built. Their primary reason was Novato couldn’t afford it.
The vote was so rushed the Novato city staff didn’t have time to complete a cost-benefit analysis, which of course provided other reasons not to approve building the station primarily as it will not be a full-service station. Given the fact the station would not be a full-service station, even a simple cost-benefit analysis would have verified the project should not be built.
I don’t believe a single additional dollar of Novato’s funds should be used to complete this station. Funding mass transit is the easiest project to fund in this day and age. It is time to stop this use of the city of Novato funds for this project.
The Novato City Council’s use of more city funds for the Novato downtown SMART station would be improper fiduciary responsibility. Even the current funding already provided by the city of Novato will have an adverse impact on the city of Novato in the next recession.
Al Dugan of Novato is a community activist and former candidate for Marin County supervisor.