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Altamont Corridor Vision aims for dual tracks over the Altamont Hills

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In a recent edition of the Press, I reported on the lobbying efforts being mounted by Valley Link backers to free up state funding for the $1.9 million first phase of the ambitious light rail project over the Altamont Pass.

In the last couple of weeks, another step has been taken: laying out goals and areas of cooperation between Valley Link and Altamont Corridor Express in order to generate support for cross-Altamont rail service, not only in the Northern San Joaquin Valley but also in the Bay Area.

Sam Matthews

Sam Matthews

The key element of the first phase of what is known as Altamont Corridor Vision is the joint use of a reconfigured 8.6-mile stretch of double tracks to be used by both Valley Link and ACE trains crossing the Altamont Pass.

This new alignment over the Altamont Hills — between Greenville Road and the San Joaquin County line — would include a 3.5-mile tunnel, which would enable speeds up to 125 miles an hour, decreasing train time over the Altamont by 11-15 minutes, according to the announced plans.

The fact that Alameda County owns the old Southern Pacific right of way over the Altamont gives the project a jump start. “Reconfigured” means that a number of the tight curves in the original right of way, created in 1869, would have to be smoothed out and the 3.5-mile tunnel would be added to replace a shorter, long-abandoned tunnel.

The 8.6-mile Altamont project is estimated to cost $1.1 billion. Funding sources have yet to be identified.

For Valley Link light rail, the Altamont Corridor Vision sees the first phase of development creating 25 round trips daily between the Dublin-Pleasanton BART station and the joint ACE-Valley Link station at Lathrop.

For ACE, Phase 1 includes $200 million for new equipment and also station alignment improvements in the Bay Area. Two additional ACE weekday round trips would be added for a new total of six. Weekend service would be established.

Dan Leavitt, manager of regional initiatives for the San Joaquin Joint Power Authority, believes the Altamont Corridor Vision presents “a very focused first-stage program” that shows ACE-Valley Link complementary rail services can also be important to helping address Bay Area transportation needs.

“We believe there can be strong support developed in the Bay Area,” he said. “Financing measures that would be put on the ballot in 2020 would be very important.”

Tracy Councilwoman Veronica Vargas, vice chairman of the Tri-Valley–San Joaquin Valley Regional Rail Authority, which would build the Valley Link light rail system, reports that contacts with Bay Area agencies are showing positive feedback.

“The Bay Area Council, Silicon Valley Leadership Group, SPUR and TransForm are focused on getting a $100 billion Bay Area transportation measure called ‘FASTER Bay Area’ on the ballot for the 2020 election,” she said.

Generating enough support to pass a measure of that size would be high hurdle, but with gridlock becoming an everyday occurrence in all parts of the Bay Area, not least the Altamont Pass, the timing could be right for success.

Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by email at shm@tracypress.com.

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