Congressman Josh Harder feels the pain of Northern San Joaquin Valley commuters who get stuck weekdays on the Altamont Pass.
“Every time I come home from the airport I get stuck in the parking lot that is the Altamont,” Harder said.
The Bay Area Council has estimated congestion on the Altamont corridor will grow 75 percent by 2040 from its pre-pandemic average of handling almost 100,000 commuters a day. As such the key corridor connecting the San Joaquin Valley with the Bay Area is one of the most heavily traveled, most congested, and fastest growing corridors in the Northern California megaregion.
Besides people being stuck in a slog to travel to and from jobs needed to support their families requiring commutes often three times longer than at non-peak hours giving the Northern San Joaquin Valley some of the longest commute times in the nation, Harder noted the congestion bottles up the movement of goods.
The congressman noted the growing number of distribution centers in Manteca, Lathrop, Tracy, Patterson, and Stockton are providing good paying jobs for district residents.
It is why Harder:
*Is seeking $8 million in federal assistance for the second phase of the $147 million 120 Bypass/Highway 99 interchange upgrade designed to eliminate the biggest traffic bottleneck in the San Joaquin Valley impacting the movement of goods and commuters as well as to reduce the carnage. Caltrans studies show motorists are six times more likely than the state freeway average to get in a collision heading toward Highway 99 on the 120 Bypass.
*Is pushing for a $25 million federal grant to help with the Valley Link service to provide rail connection ties into the Altamont Corridor Express line to connect with the BART system in Dublin/Pleasanton. That would allow commuters heading to San Francisco, Oakland, and East Bay and Peninsula communities served by BART to catch an ACE train as far south as Ceres as well as in Modesto, Ripon, Manteca, and Lathrop and commute all the way by mass transit.
*Worked with Congressman Jerry McNerny to secure $25 million for the grade separation project at the Stockton Diamond where Union Pacific and Santa Fe railroad trains have to wait when traffic is crossing on the opposite line. The project will reduce train congestion plus make the ACE service from Ceres to Sacramento with stops in Modesto, Ripon, Manteca, Lathrop, Stockton, and Lodi that is scheduled to start in 2023 a reliable time saver for commuters.
“Historically Central Valley infrastructure projects have been completely neglected by the federal government,” Harder said.
Harder notes that most infrastructure dollars go to the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas despite the San Joaquin Valley being recognized as an economically challenged region to the point a 353-page report issued by the Congressional Research Service dubbed it the “new Appalachia.”
The congressman said he will continue to push for federal grants and will work to try and secure Valley Link funding in the envisioned federal infrastructure bill.
Harder believes the Valley Link — that has already secured more than $700 million of the roughly $2 billion it will need to become a reality by 2028 — is the type of mass transit project that make sense for a forward thinking infrastructure plan.
The 42-mile system would start at a new ACE Lathrop station at the Sharpe Army Depot with stops at River Islands, Tracy, Mountain House, Livermore, and Isabel before connecting with BART in Dublin/Pleasanton.
Once in place commuters throughout Harder’s district — as well as the rest of the Northern San Joaquin Valley as well as the Sacramento region — could commute all the way by rail from their home communities to the job rich tech centers in San Jose, the East Bay and San Francisco by using ACE, Valley Link or a combination thereof.
As for future federal funding for the California High Speed Rail project, Harder said “I don’t want to take away from the Central Valley (needs).”
“In theory it is a wonderful project,” Harder said of high speed rail.
The congressman indicated cost overruns and continued delays just in the first section running from Merced to Bakersfield are troublesome.
There are a small but growing number of people advocating that the high speed rail be rethought.
One example is instead of going through the Pacheco Pass as now planned where a high cost tunnel would have to safely traverse California’s notorious San Andreas Fault that it go over the Altamont Pass instead.
Such a path would serve more population centers that are established and growing and wouldn’t be growth inducing.
The Altamont was the other alternative route that was studied more than a decade ago.
Given the length of time the Pacheco Pass option would take to get in place, one idea that has been floated was the ACE Forward project that would extend ACE service to Merced that is supposed to go as south as Ceres by 2023. That would allow service to start sooner, than later, to the Bay Area. It could also become the replacement leg to the Bay Area.
That would allow high speed rail passengers to board an ACE train in Merced and travel either to Sacramento or San Jose. In San Jose they could switch to a CalTrain to the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco.
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