Council considers best location for ACE station

The location of a new station at Turlock as part of the Altamont Corridor Express expansion was a point of contention at Tuesday’s town council meeting, with the issue eventually being pursued to allow train representatives ACE to participate in the public discussion.

The southward extension of the ACE train was decided after the passage of Measure L, the half-cent sales tax approved by Stanislaus County voters in 2016, and the state enacting of SB 1 in 2017. State Sen. Anthony Cannella’s vote was key to passing the $52 billion transportation plan, and he successfully fought off a $400 million pledge to fund the ACE expansion in Merced.

Turlock Station alone is expected to cost $26,023,143, with the cost of the expansion project totaling nearly $481.5 million depending on coordination with the host railroad, Union Pacific Railroad. The Turlock station included in the final environmental impact report, which was approved in December 2021, includes a new parking lot built at the Roger K. Fall Transit Center at the corner of North Golden State Boulevard and West Hawkeye Avenue.

A pedestrian walkway would span North Golden State Boulevard, providing access to more parking spaces along North Front Street and leading to the new station platform along tracks adjacent to The Grand Oak event center. While the ACE route will use current UPRR tracks, dual tracks will be added at Turlock station to minimize interference with freight trains.

On Tuesday, Vice Mayor Pam Franco asked Council to consider asking the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority to change the location to downtown Turlock near Marshall Street, South Golden State Boulevard and 1st Street.

“Moving the ACE train will revitalize downtown; it will help with that. You’re going to have better street entry and exit,” Franco said. “I stayed at the (Turlock Transit Center) for about 25 minutes during a very busy time of day and you have seven lanes of traffic on Golden State Boulevard and you have seven lanes of traffic on Fulkerth. You also have the fairgrounds and the crossing arms going down… Now you’re going to have more traffic jams. You also have seven lanes of traffic each way in a very difficult intersection where people have already been killed; that’s a consideration.

Mayor Amy Bublak also spoke out in favor of moving the train downtown.

Council members Andrew Nosrati and Nicole Larson were reluctant to vote on the issue without assurances from the rail authority whether there would be additional costs to the City when the location moved. Another point of contention in the new location discussed by Nosrati and Larson was the acquisition of land for the station in the city center. The original location and proposed parking areas would be built on public land, while the proposed downtown location would involve the acquisition of privately owned land.

Nosrati also said he supports Fulkerth Road/N. Golden State Boulevard location as it is more central to Turlock which could benefit more commuters.

Franco said the ACE rail authority assured him that the environmental impact report already approved for the Fulkerth/Golden State Boulevard location would also work for the south location and that there would be no need for a another report to make. Franco also said it would be safer to have all parking on the same street side of the station, as would be the case in the south location, than to have riders using the station’s overhead walkway to their cars at night.

Stanislaus County Supervisor Vito Chiesa spoke at the meeting about Valley Rail’s overall plan, which attempts to coordinate both ACE trains and Amtrak trains and their interconnectivity for passengers. He said that at first the ACE trains would only run during “commuter” hours, which would not help much in downtown economic development.

Former Council member Gil Esquer, who was part of the planning process for the proposed station on Fulkerth Road/N. Golden State Boulevard, advocated to retain original location.

“These people who are going to use it are commuters. They will leave Turlock between 5 and 7 in the morning. Which (downtown) businesses will they be able to use? They will return home between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.…. When they come home, they don’t want to go to the store. They don’t want to go downtown; they want to go home. They are tired; they have been on the road for several hours; they worked all day. I do not see it. I think we have to consider the cost you are going to incur. We leave it where it is, there is no cost to Turlock, and we get several benefits. If you try to move it south, you’re going to see Turlock’s money spent and we’ve always been against that,” Esquer said.

Turlock resident and professed ‘ACE rider’ Milt Treiweiler said the trains are full of commuters whose only concern is getting to and from work, not shopping and supported keeping the original location. He also had concerns about where the large number of potential Turlock train passengers would park their cars.

“You would have blocked off Turlock town centre; businesses would (complain) because of all the cars occupying their parking lot,” Treiweiler said.

City Council is expected to continue public discussion of the Turlock ACE station location at an upcoming council meeting.

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James H. Wright