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Mayor asks to represent Ceres on StanCOG board
• Vierra cites need to see ACE train station to completion
ACE train station Ceres
An artist rendering of how the Ceres ACE train station might be presented from the view of Whitmore Park– even though the station platform will be located on the east side of Highway 99. The plan is to create parking along El Camino Avenue near the park with a pedestrian walkway under the overpass to access the train platform immediately to the west. - photo by Contributed

Mayor Chris Vierra pulled Vice Mayor Mike Kline from the Stanislaus Council of Governments (StanCOG) so he can serve on it.

Kline was appointed to the board earlier this year.

Vierra said he wants to serve because he wants to help facilitate the building of the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) train station in Ceres.

“Senator Cannella, a former mayor of ours, was instrumental in helping make that happen so I just had some discussions with him and said I wanted to help him bring his vision to fruition and so I wanted just put myself on COG so that I can try to make that a priority of mine to deliver – hopefully before the 2023 date. If all things go well we could be seeing a train as early as 2020 with actual work beginning next year.”

The first phase of the project would be lighting and safety improvements around the Whitmore Park area of downtown. The second phase, said the mayor, would be construction of the passenger platform in late 2019 or early 2020.

“I’m excited about that,” said Vierra.

Ceres City Manager Toby Wells said the ACE station will be constructed west of Highway 99 near the southbound onramp in downtown Ceres. Parking for 600 vehicles would be offered both west and east of the raised freeway, he said. Negotiations are in the works to create a large parking lot west of 99 while diagonal parking will be offered along El Camino Avenue, from Central Avenue to the southern point of Whitmore Park. To create room for the parking stalls just west of Whitmore Park, a new concrete retaining wall needs to be constructed next to the freeway. Both walls would be painted as part of the station design. Pedestrians coming from east of the freeway will be able to access the train platform via the existing overpass structure.

The ACE line will operate on a second dedicated rail line independent of the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks, said Wells. 

“We’re very excited about coming down to Ceres,” said Chris Kay, outreach and marketing manager for the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission. “Already ACE currently takes 1.3 million passengers a year and makes a huge difference for people going from the Central Valley to the Bay Area. It’s a good way to bring jobs.”

Last year Cannella won approval for $400,000 in funding the extension of ACE train line into his district as far south as Merced in exchange for his swing vote to pass SB 1, Governor Jerry Brown’s $52 billion transportation plan to upgrade highways, local roads and rail throughout California over the next 10 years.

Republicans blasted Cannella for the vote, which is now subject of repealing on the Nov. 6 ballot in Proposition 6.

The ACE train is often confused with the bullet train, or high-speed rail, but it’s not.

SB 1 raises a number of statewide fees, including a 12-cent gas tax increase and 20-cent diesel tax increase. Vehicle license fees would be raised an average of $38 per vehicle, and drivers would also face a new annual fee to be paid along with their vehicle registration, ranging from $25 to $175 depending on the value of their car. Electric vehicles would cost their drivers $100 per year beginning in 2020.

The ACE train extension to Ceres and down to Merced is actually funded by SB 132, said Wells.