Bob Cabral was a man ahead of his time.
Back when gas prices were $1.30 a gallon and commuting to San Jose from Manteca took around 70 plus minutes, the Escalon almond farmer who served on the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors pushed hard for commuter rail passenger service over the Altamont Pass.
It was in the early 1990s when the mere talk of prying a Californian’s hands off a steering wheel was borderline blasphemy. Not only was Cabral the primary driving force that led to the birth of the Altamont Corridor Express, but he also boldly predicted the day would come when the rails would bring a reverse commute of people heading east over the Altamont Pass to jobs in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.
While the odds of that are improving with each passing year, what is most likely to happen first is something that even Cabral didn’t give much thought to — commuting between Northern San Joaquin Valley cities.
The $400 million that ACE is getting as the result of the wheeling and dealing in Sacramento to garner legislative votes for a gas tax increase will not only extend service to Ceres by 2023 but it is also a healthy down payment for the $950 million ACE Forward project. Besides aiming to extend service to Merced to connect with California high speed rail, it repositions two key stations — Tracy and Lathrop — in such a manner that in-valley commute patterns could change.
By shifting the station in Tracy to its downtown, it not only puts the service closer to population but it makes it more feasible for that city’s transit service to establish links to the muscular employment centers that flank the city on the west and east where major distribution centers operated by Amazon, Federal Express, Medline, Costco, Smart & Final, Safeway, and others provide jobs for thousands in Stockton, Lathrop, Manteca, and Modesto.
If ACE shifts the Lathrop/Manteca station as one proposal calls for to River Islands at Lathrop it would put a piece of a puzzle together that could arguably create the largest transit village in all of Northern California.
Lathrop may have
The station is proposed on the edge of the 350-acre business park that is within a half mile of the planned town center for River Islands that also will offer 11,000 housing units when completed.
Language approved by Lathrop voters explicitly prohibits warehouse or distribution centers. The street patterns and other flows such as for pedestrians within River Islands are designed not to accommodate truck traffic save for local deliveries to future stores.
Breaking the mold of San Joaquin County being the domain of distribution centers either moving out of the Bay Area or opting to locate close to it and be able to serve the Sacramento market at the same time is being done by design. River Islands will offer the 209 region’s largest concentration of executive-style home with 990 lots atop a 300-foot wide levee with access to a 17-mile continuous greenbelt park with commanding views of the San Joaquin River as well as apartments, and single family homes built around numerous lakes.
The goal is to create 16,800 jobs to balance the 11,000 homes being built.
Every time a home closes escrow at River Islands at Lathrop, $5,000 is paid into an account designed to lure employers to the planned community’s envisioned 350-acre business park.
That fee — along with the housing mix and lifestyle Cambay Group is creating in the 4,800-acre project and efforts to secure an ACE station adjacent to the business park — could be the key to help Lathrop do what no other Northern San Joaquin Valley city has done. And that is to create a large business park devoted exclusively to research and development, office headquarters and laboratory space.
Unlike other stops along the ACE tracks — present and future — ACE Forward will create three transit stations near the heart of two cities and a major planned community directly accessible to job centers or an on-ground transit system that could be reconfigured to provide seamless access from passenger trains.
To give you an idea or what that could mean, a monthly ticket currently from Lathrop to Tracy — 12 miles — costs $152 or just over $7 a day. It is roughly eight miles from the downtown Manteca station to the proposed job center at River islands meaning such roundtrip tickets on a monthly basis if such service were in place today would likely have a $7 or less daily threshold for cost.
At that price point even when coupled with bus tickets, it could effectively get commuters out of vehicles and save families transportation costs.
Service coming sooner
than later to Manteca
ACE officials have said train service is likely to come to downtown Manteca sooner than 2023 — the hard fast deadline for extending it to Ceres.
That’s because to reach Manteca would not require major bridge work such as across the Stanislaus River. It is also the first segment for of the extension south down the valley plus a transit station is already in place.
With the service extended toward Ceres in the mix, the near term ACE plan would have four trains operating each day from Stockton to San Jose both in the morning and afternoon as well as two trains in the morning and afternoon from Ceres to San Jose that would stop in downtown Manteca.
The long-term improvements call for up to 10 daily roundtrips between the Northern San Joaquin Valley and San Jose, a train-to-train connection between the ACE and BART systems and the extension of ACE service to Turlock, and Merced.
The environmental impact report for ACE Forward notes the current annual ridership of 1,285,200 passengers would increase by 28 percent by 2025 and 70 percent or 2,186,800 by 2040 with no project.
Extending service to Merced without a BART connection would increase ridership by 255 percent by 2025 and 372 percent or 6,065,900 by 2040. The Merced extension with a BART connection would increase ridership by 334 percent by 2025 and 474 percent or 7,375,500 by2040.
The train-to-train connection with BART is envisioned for Centerville to Union City.
There are 132 track/road intersections involved with the ACE project. There are 19 locations were ACEforward would contributed significantly to local traffic congestion. One of them is Main Street in downtown Manteca.
The overall project carries a $950 million price tag.
Currently 50 percent of the operating and maintenance costs for ACE are covered by fares. The balance comes from transportation sales tax measure is the three counties ACE currently serves.
Talking points the San Joaquin Rail Commission has about ACE Forward include:
uIt would reduce greenhouse gas given the Metropolitan Transportation Commission estimates traffic on Interstate 580 through the Altamont Pass will increase 75 percent by 2035.
uACE Forward would promote walkable/bikeable communities and the revitalization of core urban areas. With the exception of Ripon, all proposed ACE stations in the San Joaquin Valley are in areas which have been designated by the state as “disadvantaged communities.”
uModesto would have the second highest riders on the ACE system with just over 800,000. There would be almost a million a year boarding in Merced but almost four-fifths would be transfers from the high speed rail.
uCommuters from communities to the east of Manteca along the 120 corridor running up into the foothills would no longer be able to access trains at the Lathrop/Manteca station since it would be relocated to River Islands making the downtown Manteca the closest stop for them. That would add to parking pressures for the downtown Manteca station.
uThe 58-mile extension to Merced from Lathrop would require double tracking given ACE can’t use Union Pacific tracks as it is one of the most heavily congested freight tracks in California. ACE would use the new track predominately during passenger operating hours. At other times it could move Union Pacific freight.
ACE times to San Jose
at least 10%
ACEforward will employ next generation higher speed diesel-powered engines. It would allow top train speeds of 110 to 125 mph for a 10 percent reduction in travel time with the goal ultimately to reduce travel time by 20 percent. Keep in mind that at the same time travel times on freeways along the ACE corridor will increase significantly.
That would mean a current ACE trip to San Jose from:
uLathrop/Manteca would go from one hour and 53 minutes to one hour and 40 minutes.
uStockton would go from two hour and 12 minutes to one hour and 59 minutes.
uPleasanton would go from 59 minutes to 52 minutes.
ACE Forward would allow riders boarding in Turlock to reach Merced in 22 minutes, Modesto in 13 minutes, Lathrop/Manteca in 40 minutes, Stockton in 59 minutes, Pleasanton in one hour and 28 minutes, Great America/Levi Stadium in two hours and one minute, and San Jose in two hours and 20 minutes.