The plan to bring short-haul freight trains to Crows Landing got another boost this week with a recommendation for millions of dollars in funding from the California Transportation Commission staff.
The controversial short-haul rail proposal between the Port of Oakland and Crows Landing should get $25 million from the state's $3 billion Trade Corridor Improvement Fund, according to the recommendation.
The rail project is part of a 4,800-acre business and industrial park proposal by PCCP West Park LLC on land in and around the county's Crows Landing Air Facility. The rail link would launch as many as six round-trip trains a day, bringing consumer goods from Asia to Crows Landing for distribution up and down the coast, and shipping valley agricultural products to Oakland destined for Asian markets.
The recommended grant amount is $1 million less than West Park and the county requested. The transportation commission is expected to vote April 10 on how the Trade Corridor Improvement Funds should be spent.
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"It's a great endorsement to have the staff recommendation," West Park developer Gerry Kamilos said Tuesday.
"It further validates what we are trying to achieve here in Stanislaus County. It means from the staff perspective, Stanislaus County is very much in play as a recognized participant in the Northern California trade corridor system."
County Supervisor Dick Monteith, a proponent of the project, also was pleased with the funding recommendation. "I think they grasp what we are trying to do," he said of the transportation commission staff.
The county is pursuing the project for the thousands of jobs the industrial park promises to create, Monteith said, but the benefits to air quality may be what is swaying the commission staff.
"I believe the rail project is the first real solution presented in California to address the valley air pollution issue," he said.
The short-haul rail system would, in theory, remove thousands of trucks now driven into Oakland over the Altamont Pass.
Many West Side residents oppose the project because of added traffic congestion, potential disruptions caused by trains and loss of prime farmland.
"I still don't think it's a good project," Patterson Mayor Becky Campo said. "We felt we would be able to convince the CTC staff. I'm just disappointed, that's all."
Air pollution and congestion in the vicinity of the Crows Landing industrial park will be worse, Campo said.
"With the extra trucks, we will be inheriting Oakland's problems," she said. "Hopefully, the entire CTC will see more than what the staff is looking at, and vote to deny it."
Supervisor Jim DeMartini, who represents the West Side and is a vocal opponent of West Park, said he was surprised by the CTC staff recommendation.
"With all the projects that are vital to moving goods, I can't see where the CTC staff is coming from," he said. "Short-haul rail is a money loser. I don't see this as a viable project."
No funds for track right of way
The commission staff did not recommend funding $75 million for the San Joaquin Council of Governments project to acquire Union Pacific track right of way through the Altamont Pass. West Park intends to use those tracks for its short-haul trains, and was working with the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission on an operating agreement.
Without the San Joaquin COG acquiring the right of way, West Park will have to negotiate with Union Pacific to use the tracks, said West Park transportation consultant D.J. Smith.
Andre Boutros, the transportation commission deputy director for staff, said the San Joaquin right of way project application was unclear on when the public benefit would be realized. Commission guidelines want a public benefit by 2013.
The staff also was trying to stay within $825 million for Northern California projects, Boutros said. The Northern California projects recommended by the staff total $824.89 million.
The West Park project request was pared by $1 million because the staff did not want to recognize the county's lease of land for the inland port as part of the matching funds, Boutros said.
Kamilos said the loss of the $1 million wouldn't pose a big obstacle for West Park.
Smith sounded a cautious note on the recommendation: "This is pretty positive, but the fat lady is not singing yet. That won't happen until April."
Stanislaus County staff is likely to recommend that the Board of Supervisors delay a final vote on the West Park proposal until the CTC votes April 10, according to Keith Boggs, county deputy executive officer.
The transportation commission will meet today at 1 p.m. in the
CalPERS Building in Lincoln Plaza, 400 P St., Sacramento, to discuss the staff recommendations. A public comment period will be included.
Bee staff writer Tim Moran can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2349.