Commuter trains will consume fuel, make noise and have other effects when they start serving Modesto and Merced. But that’s better than widening highways, according to a new report on the Altamont Corridor Express expansion.
Its release last week launches a key stage in the effort to improve a service that has run between Stockton and San Jose by way of Livermore since 1998. The public has until July 31 to comment on the draft environmental report. That input will go into a final report that could be approved by late this year, allowing construction to start on the Modesto portion.
Trains could reach Modesto as early as 2019, said Matt Hertel, community engagement lead for ACE. The leg to Merced, which needs further environmental study, could take a few more years.
The San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission, which oversees ACE, will consider the draft EIR. The report can be viewed at www.acerail.com.
The project got a major boost in April, when the state earmarked $400 million from a gas tax increase. The extensions are part of the $1.2 billion ACEforward plan, which also involves upgrades to the current route. These include double tracking on parts of the route, used by Union Pacific Railroad freight trains, and better connections to BART and other passenger systems.
ACE has four round trips each weekday – west in the morning and east in the late afternoon and evening. The line serves many people who work in the Bay Area but cannot afford homes there. It eventually could have 10 round trips, some of them timed for leisure travelers.
The report has thousands of pages of detail on how the project could affect air quality, farmland, wildlife, scenery, road traffic and other concerns. It might not be as gripping a railroad yarn as, say, “Murder on the Orient Express,” but it would be historic if it leads to a practical alternative to driving.
The branch has planned or possible new stations in Manteca, Ripon, Modesto, Ceres, Turlock, either Livingston or Atwater, and Merced. All but Turlock would have a downtown depot, a nod to the anti-sprawl movement.
“The new transit stations could act as a catalyst for smart growth in communities by revitalizing city core areas and addressing traffic congestion issues ... ,” the report said.
The system would link at Merced with the state’s high-speed rail system, which has been controversial because of funding disputes and farmland impacts. That project aims to connect Southern California and the Bay Area via tracks starting to be built in the Central and Southern San Joaquin Valley.
John Holland: 209-578-2385
ACE OPEN HOUSES
The public can comment on the Altamont Corridor Express expansion plan at several meetings, including these running from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. on three evenings:
Merced: Tuesday, June 27, City Hall, 678 W. 18th St.
Modesto: Wednesday, June 28, Modesto Centre Plaza, 1000 L St.
Tracy: Thursday, June 29, City Hall, 333 Civic Center Plaza
OTHER WAYS TO COMMENT
Letter: ACEforward Draft EIR, 949 E. Channel St., Stockton 95202