All aboard, next stop, the future of Turlock transit.
It might not be high-speed rail, but the city of Turlock, along with Modesto and Merced, are expected to become a part of Altamont Corridor Express or ACE commuter trains in the next 10 years.
The project, set to be completed in 2022 for Turlock and in 2018 for Modesto, would create a connecting pathway from Merced to San Jose, running alongside the current Union Pacific Rail.
Stacey Mortensen, ACE executive director, said the decision to bring the rail system to these cities comes after years of surveying Valley residents and their travel needs.
“We’ve been working with Turlock since the early days of the project,” said Mortensen. “They’re a type of city that’s really not going to wait for something like this.”
The ACE train the currently runs out of Stockton averages around 2,000 riders a day, most of whom are Stanislaus County residents visiting the Bay Area. Unlike BART, which is heavily commuter based, the ACE train experience is more traveler-friendly, with cars that come equipped with tables, restrooms and drinking fountains.
Current estimates for the cost of the project ballpark around $160 million. However, that number is limited to strictly the Modesto downtown project. Costs to take the rail further south to Turlock and Merced have yet to be estimated.
Mortensen said that project would be funded through federal grants and loans that won't be possible unless there is a local source of funding.
“If you want to have leverage, you have to find a local source of funding,” said Mortensen.
She said the future stations, all of which will be located in the respective downtown areas of these cities, will bring along with them a sense of vibrancy and safety.
Mortensen referenced her own city of Stockton, where the area which is now the ACE station was previously a “pit littered with needles and garbage.”
“We’ve been able to build stations in the middle of nowhere,” said Mortensen. “It really has served as a catalyst for development in all these cities.”
Turlock City Manager Roy Wasden echoed Mortensen's enthusiasm for bringing the rail to Turlock, stating this is something that the community could really need.
Currently, 80 percent of Turlock workers are employed within 20 minutes of driving in the city. A potential connection to the Bay Area would open the gates for more Valley workers to find employment outside of the city, Wasden said.
“It opens up the opportunity to a less expensive and less difficult means of commuting,” said Wasden. “We think it's very beneficial to the community."
The expected site for the Turlock train station would be near the Turlock Regional Transit Center on Golden State Boulevard and Dels Lane.