PROJECT OVERVIEW AND BACKGROUND

The ACE Ceres-Merced Extension Project is a key component of the Valley Rail Program, which envisions extensions of the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) Service northward to Sacramento and southward to Merced and expansion of the San Joaquins between the San Joaquin Valley and Sacramento. Three other ACE-related Valley Rail projects are currently in development to implement this expanded ACE service – the Valley Rail Sacramento Extension Project (currently in project-level environmental clearance phase), the ACE Extension Lathrop to Ceres/Merced Project (currently in the final design phase for Lathrop to Ceres), and the Stockton Diamond Grade Separation Project (currently in preliminary design and project-level environmental clearance phase).  The ACE Ceres-Merced Extension Project (Project) will complete the project-level environmental clearance for the ACE extension to Merced associated with the Valley Rail Program, which result in an environmental impact report for the Project.

Description of the Project

SJRRC proposes to extend ACE passenger rail service from Ceres to Merced by upgrading some existing tracks and constructing new tracks at certain locations within the existing UPRR Fresno Subdivision right-of-way (ROW) over a total distance of approximately 34 miles. Three new stations and a layover and maintenance facility would be constructed along the extension alignment (see site map below).

The Project would consist of the following:

  • A Ceres to Merced Extension Alignment consisting of upgrades and new tracks and bridges within the UPRR Fresno Subdivision between Ceres and Merced;
  • New Turlock, Livingston or Atwater, and Merced Stations along the extension alignment; and
  • A new permanent Merced Layover & Maintenance Facility to support extension operations.

Purpose of Project

The Project purpose is to address growing traffic congestion, unhealthy air quality, climate change, and a general lack of access to rail transportation in the San Joaquin Valley.  The Project proposes to address these issues by extending and enhancing ACE passenger rail service significantly within the San Joaquin Valley, as well as providing a connection between ACE service and future high-speed rail service in Merced, which would integrate ACE service into a unified northern California rail network.  These aspects of the project will reduce the need for automobile use, thereby reducing traffic congestion, improving air quality and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Environmental Clearance of the Project

SJRRC will prepare an EIR in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The purpose of the EIR is to evaluate the environmental issues associated with the proposed improvements included in the Project. This new project-level EIR will be tiered from the programmatic analysis in the EIR completed for the ACE Extension Lathrop to Ceres/Merced Project, and, thus, where appropriate, the new EIR will incorporate analysis from the prior analysis. The EIR will assess and inform the public about potential impacts of the Project, including mitigation measures, where necessary. Once this environmental review process is complete, the Project can move forward to permitting, final design and construction. A project timeline can be found below.

Who is the Lead Agency?

The San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission (SJRRC) is the lead agency for this effort. To help ensure a successful process, the SJRRC is working closely with local stakeholders, including the Counties and Cities where the Project would be located.

What Has Been Completed to Date?

  • As part of Senate Bill (SB) 132 passed in April 2017, the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission (SJRRC) was awarded $400 million for the ACE service expansion in the San Joaquin Valley, including associated system improvements.
  • SJRRC completed an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the ACE Extension Lathrop to Ceres/Merced Project in 2018, which was approved by the SJRRC Board of Commissioners on August 3, 2018. This EIR analyzed the Phase I of the extension of ACE from Lathrop to Ceres at a project-level detail and Phase II of the extension of ACE from Ceres to Merced at a programmatic level of detail.
  • SJRRC is now preparing an EIR for the current project – ACE Ceres–Merced Extension Project – which will analyze the potential environmental impacts from extending ACE between Ceres and Merced at a project-level detail.
  • SJRRC filed a Notice of Preparation (NOP) for the ACE Ceres-Merced Extension Project EIR on May 28, 2020.
  • SJRRC held three scoping meetings on June 25 and June 30, 2020, and accepted scoping comments through July 7, 2020.
Merced Extension Benefits Sidebar Graphic 5-26-20

Key Project Milestones and Timeline

MerExt Timeline Graphic 5-26-2020

Project-Related Documents

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