Valley Link — a future train solution to Bay Area commuting

Joan Barnett Lee/Modesto Bee file
·3 min read

The classic children’s book, The Little Engine That Could, tells the story of a scrappy blue engine that courageously steps forward to save the day – pulling a stranded train over a steep mountain – motivated by anguish it sees in the eyes of its passengers.

It’s a story that illustrates how empathy, determination, and sheer grit can help to defy insurmountable odds. It is perhaps not unlike the story of Valley Link.

Like the story in the book, there’s a steep mountain and there’s a train – a train that can someday save the day for more than 100,000 anguished commuters who commute daily in their cars through the Altamont Pass/I-580 corridor west of Modesto. Most spend an average of 90 minutes each way as they travel from affordable housing in the Valley to prevailing wage jobs throughout the Bay Area.

The majority of these jobs are in the construction, manufacturing, health care and social assistance employment sectors – where remote work will never be an option. They need and deserve this project and the improved quality of life it will bring – and with empathy and sheer grit, the Valley Link governing board is determined to give it to them.

We now have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make Valley Link a reality with funds from the newly passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. To be eligible for these highly competitive funds, a combined NEPA Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Supplemental Environmental Impact Report (SEIR) for an Initial Operating Segment (IOS) will soon be initiated.

This proposed IOS will extend the Valley Link project from the Dublin/Pleasanton BART Station to the Mountain House Station and include the planned Operating Maintenance Facility (OMF) in Tracy.

In addition, the EIS/SEIR will evaluate a new design element aimed at reducing travel time through the Altamont Pass as well as an alternate Mountain House Station site with a track extension to the OMF. Caltrans and the SJCOG are currently evaluating a potential transitway in the I-205 median as part of its I-205 Managed Lanes project. A future EIS may need to include this transitway as a feasible alternative but no work is advancing on this segment at this time.

The hallmark of the Valley Link project – in fact a mandate of the agency’s enabling legislation – is to be responsive to the communities it will someday serve, including Stanislaus County. To that end, no decisions have or ever will be made without providing project stakeholders and the public with every opportunity to provide input that will be meaningfully received.

The project’s Public Participation Plan outlines this commitment and it is posted on the Valley Link website. The website also serves as an accurate and current source of factual information about the project.

We urge everyone to join us as we work to bring congestion relief to thousands of commuters in the Altamont Pass/I-580 corridor and improve the quality of life in our communities.

Veronica Vargas is chair of the Tri-Valley–San Joaquin Valley Regional Rail Authority and mayor pro tem of Tracy. Paul Akinjo is a rail authority board member and Lathrop councilman. Bernice King-Tingle is on the rail authority board and the Mountain House Community Services board.

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