When California’s new governor, Gavin Newsom, declared in his State of the State speech earlier this week that he is scaling back the California High Speed Rail Project, it may have been sad news for high-speed rail supporters.
But for the backers of the Valley Link light rail line to connect this part of the San Joaquin Valley with the Tri-Valley and the Dublin-Pleasanton BART station, it was music to their regional-rail ears.
“Let’s be real,” Newsom declared in Sacramento. “The current (high-speed rail) project, as planned, would cost too much and take too long.”
At the Tracy City Hall on Wednesday, Michael Tree, executive director of the Tri-Valley-San Joaquin Valley Regional Rail Authority, reminded authority directors that Newsom’s message included a promise to not entirely scrap high-speed rail but to complete the line from Bakersfield to Merced, which is already under construction.
“The focus will be on completing the Central Valley high-speed rail segment and building those regional networks,” Tree said in addressing regional-rail authority directors at their meeting in Tracy City Hall.
In mentioning “those regional networks,” he obviously was referring to the regional rail authority’s proposed Valley Link light rail line running from Lathrop in the east through downtown Tracy, near Mountain House and across the Altamont Pass.
Tree pointed out that the Altamont Corridor Express is planning an extension from Lathrop south to Merced, where it would connect with the high-speed rail line. Farther north at Lathrop, ACE would also share a rail platform with Valley Link, providing options to connect to the Bay Area.
In addition to the connections important to Valley Link, there is the all-essential need for funding. With potentially less state funding earmarked for high-speed rail and with increased emphasis on regional rail connections, Valley Link will have a better chance at securing construction dollars from state and federal funding sources, especially the $5.2 billion SB-1 state program to repair roads and bridges and extend mass transit, funded mostly by gasoline and diesel taxes.
“When the call for projects comes out for the next round of SB-1, projects, you will be in a great position,” Tree told rail authority directors.
A major factor in that “great position” is the environmental-review hurdle that will be a crossed as part of the Valley Link feasibility study due to be completed in July. And the fact that the light rail project is already included as a link in the state rail plan, Tree added.
And, too, there is $588 million in Valley Link funding already identified, mostly from BART taxes collected over the years by Livermore, to provide a local share of state or federal transportation grants.
State and federal funding is essential to success of the light rail project. The first phase of Valley Link — between North Lathrop and Dublin-Pleasant BART — is projected to cost $1.8 billion to build before it can be completed in 2026.
A second phase would take the system north from Lathrop to Sacramento.