The latest expansion of the Altamont Corridor Express, which includes a new train station in Turlock, could be running in the next few years after the project received an important approval last week.
The San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission on Friday approved the final environmental impact report for the segment stretching from Turlock to Merced. Earlier this fall, the commission approved stations in Manteca, Ripon, Modesto and Ceres, for which design work has already begun. The latest approval will allow design work for Turlock, Livingston and Merced stations to move forward, connecting residents to Silicon Valley and the Bay Area.
According to ACE, the purpose of the project is “to address growing traffic congestion, unhealthy air quality, climate change and a general lack of access to rail transportation in the San Joaquin Valley.”
While ACE train services are expected in Ceres and even to Sacramento by 2023, the Turlock station planned for Golden State Boulevard will take 14 months to build and could be fully operational by 2025.
“We are quite pleased that this extension of the ACE train from Turlock to Merced has reached another critical milestone,” Interim City Manager Sarah Eddy said. “When this rail service starts, it will provide an important new dimension in Turlock’s ongoing efforts to promote economic development and provide a better quality of life for our residents.”
The southward extension was decided after the passage of Measure L, the half-cent sales tax approved by Stanislaus County voters in 2016, and the state’s passage of SB 1 in 2017. Then-state Senator Anthony Cannella’s vote was key in passing the $52 billion transportation plan, and he managed to wrestle a pledge of $400 million to fund the ACE extension to Merced. In total, about $1 billion in grant funding has been secured for the project.
Turlock’s station alone will cost $26,023,143, with the cost of the expansion project totaling nearly $481.5 million depending on coordination with the host railroad, Union Pacific Railroad. The Turlock station included in the final EIR will see a new parking lot constructed at the Roger K. Fall Transit Center on the corner of North Golden State Boulevard and West Hawkeye Avenue.
A pedestrian footbridge will stretch across North Golden State Boulevard, providing access to more parking along North Front Street and leading to the new station platform along the tracks adjacent to The Grand Oak event center. While the ACE route will utilize current UPRR tracks, double tracks will be added at the Turlock station to minimize interference with freight trains.
“The station won’t only give Turlock residents an easy, quick and cheaper option to travel to other areas of California, I believe it’ll also stimulate the nearby businesses and encourage infrastructure improvements in the Golden State Boulevard area which are desperately needed still,” City Councilmember Nicole Larson said.
Before the pandemic, ACE was carrying 1.5 million passengers per year and offered four trains per day. The train has offered weekday trips between Stockton and San Jose since 1998, mainly for commuters, and currently offers two weekday trains due to COVID.
Councilmember Andrew Nosrati said he is excited for the progress of regional train connectivity, calling it a great opportunity for broad economic development.
“It’s hugely important for our economy and for the opportunities to our residents,” Nosrati said. “This will likely continue to cause the prices in our housing market to rise, so it’s imperative the Council acts now to ensure our residents are not displaced by this progress.”