The biregional rail authority working at developing a light rail system over the Altamont Pass has received a $750,000 state grant to help fund project planning.
The grant, announced by Caltrans officials on May 15, will be combined by the Tri-Valley-San Joaquin Valley Regional Rail Authority with other sources of planning funding.
The first planning phase, which goes into environmental issues and required alternatives to the light-rail plan, must meet a July 1 deadline. Planning will then move into a second, more detailed phase of a feasibility study mandated by state legislation that formed the rail authority, to be completed by July 1, 2019.
Planning for the light rail system to connect ACE with BART and relieve gridlock on Interstate 580 over the Altamont Pass is already in progress by AECOM, a worldwide transportation planning and engineering firm.
The $750,000 state grant will augment a grant of $521,000 from the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission and a grant of $300,000 from the San Joaquin County of Governments, reported Michael Tree, the rail authority’s executive director.
One question that needs to be answered at a yet-to-be-determined time during the planning process is the location of the Tracy light rail station.
Both the downtown Tracy Transit Station and a station to the west near Corral Hollow Road, called Ellis Historical Station, are being considered.
The placement of the Mountain House station also remains up in the air after the Mountain House Community Services District delivered a letter last week to the rail authority board stating that a station at Grant Line Road and I-580 would be preferred over the proposed site farther south on Mountain House Parkway.
In announcing the receipt of the quarter-million-dollar planning grant, Scott Haggerty, chairman of the rail authority’s board, pointed to the traffic gridlock on I-580 over the Altamont Pass and into the Tri-Valley area as a major consideration for the light rail project.
“With traffic expected to increase by 60 percent in the future, this is a very important rail connection that will not only improve our quality of life but will also have a positive impact on our economy and environment,” said Haggerty, an Alameda County supervisor.
Tracy Mayor Pro Tem Veronica Vargas, the rail authority board’s vice chairman, noted that the affordability of housing in Tracy and other San Joaquin Valley communities is becoming increasingly attractive for those who hold Bay Area jobs, but Altamont Pass gridlock is a already a growing problem for commuters.
“This is the right time for policy makers on both sides of the Altamont to work together to deliver an important rail connection that will deliver real results in reducing congestion,” she said.