Just where is the quality of life going in Manteca?
I was headed down the Tidewater Bikeway for a 45-minute jog Saturday when I noticed a train sidelined blocking the Industrial Park Drive railroad crossing. There was nothing unusual in that.
What was unusual was a neighbor, John Alves, walking toward me. It seems he tried to enjoy the Family City lifestyle every elected leader promotes as well as get out of his car at the same time as all the government types encourage us to do by walking just over a mile one way to take in his grandson’s soccer match at Woodward Park.
He never made it. The reason was simple. John had been turned back by the train that by his watch had been blocking the crossing for over 50 minutes. Actually there wasn’t just a train on the siding. There were two. The longer one was blocking the actual crossing and another just a short distance to the east that had a dozen or so boxcars in tow.
The trains were waiting for a northbound freight train to arrive and pass on through.
After a 5 minute chat in which John expressed the sentiment I literally keep hearing “on the street” every day that the current council isn’t more effective than the previous council at addressing quality of life issues, I continued on my way but ended up altering my usual route and headed up Moffat to Austin and turned around as the Woodward Avenue crossing was now blocked with the westbound train and then, once that cleared, was blocked again by two southbound trains. The traffic waiting to turn left onto Woodward had up almost to the Highway 99 off-ramp.
I get that this is not the fault of Union Pacific Railroad or the City of Manteca. When the siding was put in place decades ago to move trains off the main line to let another pass in the opposite direction, rarely used Spreckels Road (now Van Ryn Avenue) that had a pavement consistent with the crater scared moon crossed the tracks and T-intersected with Moffat behind Spreckels Sugar. Back then an hour could pass before you saw a vehicle on the section of Woodward Avenue that crosses the tracks east of what today is South Main Street. The 52 acres of what would be Woodward Park was covered with almonds as was almost all the other farmland along Woodward between Main and Moffat that has been nearly replaced by the hottest crop these days in Manteca — tract homes.
Personally, I think the city has better things they need to spend money on than an overpass or underpass of train tracks that would run somewhere in the neighborhood of $30 million, and that’s just for one crossing in a town that has 15 at-grade crossings.
Coming down the line thanks to the deal cut to impose the 12 cent gas tax is extending Altamont Corridor Express service to and through downtown Manteca all the way to Ceres. Senate Bill 1 established 2023 as the year that service should start.
It will require double tracking the railroad line from the Lathrop Wye to Ceres.
How this works is simple. There would be a separate track dedicated during morning and afternoon commutes for ACE trains. Freight trains during that time would still run exclusively on a separate line.
There is an option on the table likely to be implemented that would allow freight trains to use the second track when ACE trains are rolling. The City Council needs to insist in a very public way that indeed happens. Freight traffic just like passenger traffic is expected to keep increasing as the years go by.
Double track freight train movements not hindered by some trains needing to slow down and then start from a stand still to start moving again would eliminate trains that seem to lallygag or — in the case of the Woodward Avenue and Industrial Park Drive — block crossings. That said when ACE is running there will still be a need for a siding to allow freight trains to operate effectively.
That means a siding needs to go somewhere along the line in or near Manteca.
If it is kept where it is no problems will be resolved and things will get worse as rail traffic increases. If it is moved farther to the south and starts midway between where Austin Road and Woodward Avenue crosses the tracks today and continues to a point further south toward Ripon, the days of sidelined trains causing major traffic snarls on Spreckels Avenue/Industrial Park Drive as well as Woodward Avenue will be history.
That’s because the first phase of the fix for the 120 Bypass/Highway 99 mess Caltrans is pursuing to start in 2022 places a new bridge at the Austin Road interchange that will also clear the railroad tracks. A new Woodward connection to Moffat that includes an at-grade crossing will be much safer as it will be at a 90-degree angle.
If the second track goes in to the west of the current track, the siding will need to be replaced. At that time the expense shouldn’t be any more to relocate it further south on the assumption the railroad has adequate right-of-way. If it doesn’t they will need additional right-of-way at the current location to accommodate a siding and second track just as they would elsewhere farther to the south.
If the double track goes on the east side it raises some serious questions. Nowhere else along the line between Manteca and Ceres are there at-grade crossings along the line. Manteca currently has nine. Only in Manteca is there significant development backing up to both sides of the Union Pacific corridor.
Based on the fact there is more residential to the east of the tracks, as well as downtown, the Tidewater Bikeway, and Manteca High, the least amount of impact for Manteca would be for double tracking on the west side which would require a new siding.
It is big deal on what side of the track the second track goes when it comes to the quality of life in Manteca more so than in Ripon, Modesto, or Ceres. That’s because of how the tracks slice through Manteca and the fact the city has nine at-grade crossings that also means as much as 100,000 times more pedestrian and bicycle traffic crossing the tracks at-grade mainly because there is no legal way to do so in Ripon, Modesto, or Ceres. And that is in addition to vehicles.
Given we are four years out from extended ACE service being started Manteca’s leaders need to push now and push hard to get the second track on the west side and to have the siding moved farther to the south. This is not something you come up with as a major issue once plans have been drawn up.
And to make it clear to everyone — from the ACE folks to Manteca’s 85,000 residents — the Manteca City Council needs to start pushing now and do so in a public and consistent manner.
Not to dismiss concerns of those that want quiet zones or even those wanting a few $30 million apiece grade separations, but where the second track goes and moving the siding will play more of a significant role in the quality of life, safety, and traffic flow without the need for the city to come up with a dime.
Becoming the proverbial pit bull on double tracking and where the siding goes doesn’t result in the building of a grand structure. It is low-cost and effective nuts and bolts type of thing the council needs to address and to follow through to make happen.