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Council considers best location for ACE train station

The location of a new train station in Turlock as part of the expansion of the Altamont Corridor Express was a topic of contention at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, with the issue ultimately being continued to allow for ACE train representatives to be part of the public discussion.

The southward extension of the ACE train 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.

Turlock’s station alone is expected to 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 Environmental Impact Report, which was approved in December 2021, includes 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 would 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. 

On Tuesday, Vice Mayor Pam Franco requested that the Council consider asking the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority to change the location to downtown Turlock near Marshall Street, South Golden State Boulevard and 1st Street.

“Moving the ACE train is going to revitalize the downtown area; it’s going to assist with that. You’re going to have better street ingress and egress,” said Franco. “I stood at the (Turlock Transit Center) for about 25 minutes during a very busy time of the day and you’ve got seven lanes of traffic on Golden State Boulevard and you’ve got seven lanes of traffic on Fulkerth. You’ve also got the fairgrounds and the railroad crossing arms that come down…Now, you’re going to have more traffic tie-ups. You’ve also got seven lanes of traffic each way in a very difficult intersection where people have already gotten killed; that’s a consideration.”

Mayor Amy Bublak also spoke in support of the train’s move to the downtown area.

Council members Andrew Nosrati and Nicole Larson were hesitant to vote on the issue without assurances from the rail authority on if there would be additional costs for the City in moving the location. Another point of contention in the new location brought up by Nosrati and Larson was acquiring the land for the station in the downtown area. The original location and proposed parking areas would be built on publicly-owned land, while the proposed downtown location would involve acquiring land that is owned by a private individual.

Nosrati also said he supports the Fulkerth Road/N. Golden State Boulevard location as it is more centrally located in Turlock, which could benefit a greater number of commuters.

Franco said that the ACE train authority assured her that the Environmental Impact Report that was already approved for the Fulkerth/ Golden State Boulevard location would work for the south location also and there would be no need for another report to be done. Franco also said that it would be safer to have all the parking on the same side of the street of the station, as it would be in the south location, than to have riders taking the overhead walkway from the station to their cars at night.

Stanislaus County Supervisor Vito Chiesa talked at the meeting about the overall Valley Rail Plan, which tries to coordinate both ACE train and Amtrak trains and their interconnectivity for passengers. He said in the beginning, the ACE trains would only running on “commuter” hours, which wouldn’t help much with economic development in the downtown area.

Former Council member Gil Esquer, who was part of the planning process for the proposed station on Fulkerth Road/N. Golden State Boulevard, advocated for keeping the original location.

“These people who are going to be using this are commuters. They’re going to be leaving Turlock between 5 and 7 a.m. What businesses are going to be (downtown) that they can utilize? They’ll be returning home between 7 and 9 p.m.…. When they’re coming home, they don’t want to go to the store. They don’t want to go downtown; they want to go home. They’re tired; they’ve been on the road for several hours; they’ve been at work all day. I don’t see it. I think we need to consider the cost you’re going to incur. We leave it where it is, there’s no cost to Turlock and we’re getting several pluses. You try moving it south, you’re going to see Turlock money being spent and we were always against that,” said Esquer.

Turlock resident and professed ‘ACE rider’ Milt Treiweiler said that the trains are full of commuters whose only concern is getting to and from work, not shopping and supported keeping the original location. He also had concerns with where the large number potential Turlock train riders would park their cars.

“You would have downtown Turlock jammed up; the businesses would be (complaining) because of all the cars that are taking up their parking,” said Treiweiler.

The City Council is expected to continue public discussion of the Turlock ACE train station location at an upcoming Council meeting.