CA: Stanislaus gets $13 million more for delayed ACE rail line. Another commute option is here

Dec. 27, 2023
New state grants will help expand the Altamont Corridor Express into Stanislaus County, as well as a vanpool program already serving commuters.

Dec. 19—New state grants will help expand the Altamont Corridor Express into Stanislaus County, as well as a vanpool program already serving commuters.

The allocations, totaling $16. 2 million, were finalized Dec. 13 by the Stanislaus Council of Governments. It is made up of county supervisors and city council members and oversees transportation funding.

The only dissent came from Hughson Mayor George Carr, who objected to the $13 million for ACE. It will go toward cost overruns on an overall $1.8 billion rail effort, running a few years behind schedule.

"They keep at every turn requesting additional funds," Carr said. "... I don't believe that they deserve anything until they can actually prove that they are coming to Modesto."

The new money will go to stations and nearby work in Modesto and Ceres. The project requires adding a second track in many stretches to avoid conflicts with freight trains. The planners also are dealing with a large fuel pipeline and other utilities in the corridor.

ACE runs four round trips on weekdays between Stockton and San Jose. The southern branch got its first funding in 2017, with the hope of reaching Ceres by this year and Merced by 2027. The timeline now is 2026 for Ceres, 2029 for Turlock and 2030 for Livingston and Merced.

ACE is building a northern branch that will add six stops in San Joaquin and Sacramento counties between 2026 and 2029. The stations will be shared with Amtrak, which is increasing service between the San Joaquin Valley and the capital.

County Supervisor Vito Chiesa voted for the $13 million while sharing Carr's displeasure with the delay. "Holding back any money just sets the timeline back, potentially," he said.

The money approved by StanCOG is the county's share of $5.1 billion statewide from the California Department of Transportation. It can be spent on upgrading transit systems and recouping fare revenue lost to COVID-19.

The bulk of the county's funding, $47.5 million, went toward a plan for hydrogen-powered buses by the Stanislaus Regional Transit Authority. It is still seeking $27.4 million for the effort, which would meet a state mandate for zero emissions by 2040.

The vanpool program got $3.2 million. It is a partnership with Commute with Enterprise, a branch of the car-rental company. It aims at Stanislaus residents who now drive alone to jobs in the Bay Area.

Enterprise arranges with employers for the vans, which seat up to 15 people. The workers share the driving duties and some of the costs. The state money will subsidize the program, dubbed StanisCruise, over three years.

"Someone else does the driving, so you can chat, sleep, read or catch up on your favorite podcasts," the website says. "Simply sit back, relax and arrive at work in a great mood."

The state grants are funded by a 2017 increase in the gasoline tax on drivers. They seek to get more people onto trains and other climate-friendly modes of travel.

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