Mayor Ben Cantu sees Manteca’s future coming down the tracks and he doesn’t want to ruin it.
A letter he submitted that appeared in Thursday’s Bulletin laid out the case for Altamont Corridor Express commuter train service when it starts stopping in Manteca by 2023 to not do so at the downtown transit center but at McKinley Avenue just a stone’s throw from the completed extension of Daniels Street and within a quarter of a mile of the new McKinley Avenue interchange on the 120 Bypass.
Cantu noted the inaugural ridership from the downtown Manteca station has been estimated at 1,500 departures per day by ACE. The big issue is where all of those vehicles park even if only half of the riders arrive in cars and not by public transportation or being dropped off. Given they are commuters Cantu is correct they will have minimal positive economic impact on downtown as it is currently configured. It may eventually by a different story if once an economic tipping point is reached when a private sector redevelopment project becomes feasible to create a transit village complete with apartments, condos, shops and such across Moffat from the transit center.
But until if and when that happens, basically there needs to be a lot of cars warehoused in a parking lot or a parking structure.
Before touching on a major flaw in Cantu’s vision, he needs to get the rest of the City Council as well as the community engaged in a serious conversation about commuter rail’s impact on Manteca’s future and to do so now before time runs out.
Cantu is on the right track that ACE’s impact on Manteca needs to be given a lot of thought as to what it can and can’t do not just for the commuting public but also the community as a whole.
The flaw in Cantu’s plan is purely operational. The ACE train service starting up in three years will have three trains heading from Ceres to Sacramento every day and one train heading from Ceres to San Jose that will stop at downtown Manteca. The McKinley Avenue location that Cantu is promoting is not on the same rail line.
That, however, doesn’t minimize two key issues that Cantu raises that need to be addressed post haste.
The first is indeed the issue of parking impacts on downtown. The other is the best location for the station that most riders in the greater Manteca area would access.
There are two points that perhaps most can agree upon. One is the fact the community would be best served by a fully functional transit center that is centrally located and strategically situated within a block of both the major north-south thoroughfare and a key east-west corridor. It works well for Manteca Transit and San Joaquin Regional Transit. It will also be a perfect fit for Modesto Area Express starting July 1 when it rolls out its Modesto to Stockton service connecting with the Amtrak station in Stockton for a connection to Sacramento. At the same time the Lathrop-Manteca station on West Yosemite Avenue is already at its max for parking when there isn’t a pandemic underway.
The planned North Lathrop that is part of the 2023 service plan provides not only a more accessible boarding point for Lathrop residents but it would allow transfers between what will be two ACE service corridors — one that heads to Sacramento and another to San Jose. As an added bonus, when the Valley Link starts rolling you will be able to switch to that system to connect with BART and points in Pleasanton, Livermore, Oakland, and San Francisco from the North Lathrop station.
ACE could very well at some point consolidate the Lathrop-Manteca stop with North Lathrop given there is much more available land for parking.
But if you look down the line at 2040 and beyond Manteca will be well on its way to doubling its current population.
That brings us back to downtown parking.
What if the Manteca Transit Center location had two ticketing kiosks and passenger platforms — one on each side of the tracks? That option didn’t exist when the initial ACE service extension feasibility study was done because the plan was to double track the line through Manteca. ACE has since abandoned that and is going with a plan to further enhance and speed up train movements between Ceres and Sacramento by addressing an at-grade crossing of the Union Pacific and Santa Fe railroad lines in Stockton adding sidings.
Given the city is planning to move solid waste to the wastewater treatment facility where a food to fuel “refinery” exists to power solid waste trucks as well as recycling sorting and composting operations are being pondered, it will free up a lot of city land on both sides of Wetmore Street.
That combined with available land between the existing transit center parking and the Moffat Community Center could provide adequate parking.
Assuming ACE is going to invest in securing parking for the station it is an opportune time to make a pitch. Whatever the assessed value of city-owned Wetmore land is that ACE would need for parking could be applied instead to creating a new parking lot and passenger platform near where Daniels Street connects with McKinley Avenue. The city turns the needed land over to ACE for $1. And if more parking is needed to meet city growth Manteca kicks in for additional parking lot space improvements.
At that point the current Lathrop-Manteca station is abandoned.
Why would the folks at ACE like such a plan? It provides a much larger station in terms of parking. But perhaps the real attraction is it will place an ACE station within a half mile of the Northern San Joaquin Valley’s premiere connector freeway —the 120 Bypass. That would allow for more Manteca-based riders as well as those heading in from Escalon, Oakdale, and points in the foothills.
Manteca not only gets a better situated station but it does so at the door of the 140-acre family entertainment zone anchored currently by Great Wolf and Big League Dreams. Given how key the Lathrop “Y” nestled up against Manteca figures in the long range vision to make heavy rail a solid commuting and general transportation choice for leisure and other travel, the city would have effective public transportation at the doorstep of the FEZ.
That can indeed happen as ACE and other rail grows beyond simply being a commuter train service as the decades unfold.
It is critical Manteca thinks through how to harness ACE service the right way not just to address commute issues but to improve the overall quality of life and economic standing of the community.
By steering the conversation beyond “just adding” a passenger platform and parking at the existing transit station, Cantu can help create a well-planned city that will have qualities that can’t be matched anywhere else.