Thursday, April 19, 2012
S.J. leaders lobby D.C. for transit funds/The Record
Transportation tops agenda on annual One Voice mission
STOCKTON - Transit projects topped the list of regional priorities this year at the annual lobbying trip by San Joaquin County elected officials and other leaders as they combed the halls of federal power in Washington, D.C., this week.
One request is to add $6 million toward the planning stages to improve rail travel between the county and the Silicon Valley on the Altamont Commuter Express train. The money would match funds to develop a "Super ACE" that could eventually cut travel times between Stockton and the end of the line in half, down to 50 minutes in each direction.
The improved service would also tap into the developing California High Speed Rail system, which is poised to begin construction in stages and has drawn vocal critics of its plan and $68 billion price tag.
But controversy hasn't disrupted the planning to improve the Altamont route already under way, said Stacey Mortensen, executive director of the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission. And the need to improve the Altamont rail corridor has been a regional priority since before the state's bullet-train project started picking up steam, she said.
"It will make sense, no matter what," Mortensen said last week before leaving for Washington.
Construction of the state bullet train has yet to begin. Project supporters include Gov. Jerry Brown, and detractors range from landowners near the path of the train to state and federal elected officials.
One controversial aspect of the plan was to build the first segment in the lower San Joaquin Valley. But this is also where the Altamont improvements could be part of improved regional travel before the rest of the high-speed network is completed, according to the recently updated rail plan.
In Washington this week, rail travel in San Joaquin County wasn't the only transit project being shopped around.
As population and gas prices increase and environmental consciousness grows, more and more people in the region will be using public transit, said Donna DeMartino, general manager of the San Joaquin Regional Transit District. The district is seeking $24.6 million toward a project to replace outdated and crowded facilities with a new regional transportation center.
The annual trip to Washington, called One Voice, has helped bring tens of millions of dollars back to the county over more than a decade, officials have said.
Other projects brought forth by other agencies include freeway interchange projects in Lathrop, Manteca, Stockton and Tracy as well as a railway crossing in Lathrop.
But there are other projects, like one to build a pipeline to bring more water to Ripon.
"It's not just transportation," said Andrew Chesley, executive director of the San Joaquin Council of Governments, the agency organizing the trip.
The San Joaquin County group will be covering a wider range of issues this year, he said before embarking on the trip.
The group planned to talk with Washington officials about more issues - such as education, housing and foreclosures - than just discussion of individual transportation projects, he said.
A contingent of San Joaquin County leaders is in Washington this week, meeting face to face with federal officials about local issues. Federal dollars help pay for many local projects, here are some of the local requests.
• $6 million toward $12 million in preliminary engineering to improve rail service through the Altamont Pass
• $24.6 million toward $67.6 million to build new regional transportation center for San Joaquin Regional Transit District
• $5 million toward a $38.3 million to rebuild Interstate 5 interchanges at Lathrop Road
• $800,000 toward completing designing a $20 million plan to build an interchange at Highway 120 and McKinley Road in Manteca
• $4 million toward a $12.5 million project to widen the roadway and improve access to the Port of Stockton
• $2.5 million toward a $33.3 million project to replenish groundwater used for drinking and agriculture
• $2.5 million toward $2.6 million of improvement to Stockton Metropolitan Airport
• $2 million toward $293 million in improvements to Interstate 5, including paying for engineering design for a new interchange between Hammer Lane and Eight Mile Road in Stockton
• $5 million toward a $28 million project to separate rail and vehicle traffic by building an overpass at MacArthur Drive
Contact reporter Zachary K. Johnson at (209) 546-8258 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit his blog at recordnet.com/johnsonblog.