Passenger rail service to Larkspur got one step closer Monday, when local matching funds for the 2.2-mile rail extension were announced by Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit.

The Transportation Authority of Marin has agreed to redirect $11.4 million of its Measure 2 highway funds to the SMART Larkspur Extension, roughly a third of the project’s estimated $40 million cost and more than the local matching funds required to qualify for federal funding.

SMART can now compete with about 50 other projects nationwide for federal funding to construct the segment, SMART general manager Farhad Mansourian said last week in an interview with Press Democrat staff writer Matt Brown.

On Sept. 23, the project received a $2.5 million “Small Starts” grant from the Federal Transit Administration to use for environmental and engineering work, the third milestone that must be met to qualify for federal funding. Read Matt Brown’s story about that grant HERE.

“I spoke with FTA administrator (Peter) Rogoff, who indicated that the progress we have made on the Larkspur extension warrants a place for the project at the federal table,” Mansourian said.

The Larkspur link has already been designated as a “preferred alternative” and adopted in the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s Bay Area Plan, the first two milestones required for federal consideration. The final milestone is creating a financial plan for the project, said Carolyn Glendening, SMART spokesperson. The $11.4 million Measure 2 money will be a key piece of that plan.

The original SMART line design included passenger service between Cloverdale and Larkspur, where passengers could connect with San Francisco-bound ferries. During the economic downtown the service area shrunk to include towns between Santa Rosa and San Rafael.

The Larkspur extension is considered a priority for SMART since it will connect the rail line with San Francisco-bound ferries, Glendening said last week. “The connectivity to the rest of the regional transportation network is significant.”

Work crews are nearly done with the first phase of rail improvements through Santa Rosa and will soon start on tracks closer to San Rafael. Rail service is now expected to begin in 2016.

Measure 2 uses $1 of each bridge toll to fund transportation projects that will reduce congestion or make improvements to travel in the toll bridge corridors. TAM’s portion of the Measure 2 money is limited to extending the SMART rail from San Rafael south to Larkspur and the Greenbrae Corridor project that would rebuild the Highway 101 interchange at Greenbrae and improve access to the Larkspur Ferry. Up to $3 million of Marin’s Measure 2 money will be used by SMART for a permanent rail crossing at Andersen Drive in San Rafael.

“The TAM board has crafted a truly multi-modal approach to the congestion in the Greenbrae Corridor,” SMART board chair Judy Arnold said in a press reelase. “Over the past two years I have been repeatedly impressed by the clear-sightedness of both TAM and SMART board members, who are working to ensure that the train and pathway integrate fully with our overall transportation infrastructure — roadways, bus transit, bike and ped facilities — so the public gets the full benefit of all of the elements.”

SMART expects to complete the federal environmental clearance and project engineering for the extension in early 2014, which, along with a financial plan including a minimum of 20% in matching funds, will make the project eligible to be recommended for construction funding. The cost of the Larkspur rail extension is now estimated at about $40 million.

“We are grateful to TAM’s board and staff for recognizing the importance of this project as part of the overall solution, and their action definitely makes the project more competitive at the federal level,” Mansourian said in the release.

Glendening said SMART continues to look for money to extend the line to Cloverdale.