ACE CERES-MERCED EXTENSION PROJECT – ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT REPORT

The Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the ACE Ceres to Merced Project is now available here.  The San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission Board of Directors will consider certification of the Final EIR and approval of the Project at its December 3, 2021 Board meeting. Information on the meeting can be found on the SJRRC events page.

PROJECT OVERVIEW AND BACKGROUND

The ACE Ceres-Merced Extension Project is a key component of the Valley Rail Program, which envisions extensions of the 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 final design), 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 will complete the project-level environmental clearance for the ACE extension to Merced associated with the Valley Rail Program. The Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Project was published on April 22, 2021 and was available for public review and comment until June 7, 2021. The Final EIR was published on November 19, 2021.

DESCRIPTION OF THE PROJECT
SJRRC proposes to extend ACE passenger rail service from Ceres to Merced by upgrading some existing tracks and constructing new track 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.

The Proposed Project consists of the following:

  • The Ceres to Merced Extension Alignment, which consists of upgrades to track, new track, and bridges within the Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) Fresno Subdivision between Ceres and Merced.
  • The Turlock, Livingston, and Merced Stations, which would be located along the Ceres to Merced Extension Alignment.
  • The Merced Layover & Maintenance Facility, which would be located in north Merced to support extension operations.

In addition, the SJRRC has identified the Atwater Station Alternative as an alternative to the Livingston Station. The EIR analyzes both stations at an equal level of detail. The final decision as to whether to adopt the Livingston Station or the Atwater Station Alternative will be made at the December 3, 2021 SJRRC Board of Directors meeting where the Board will be considering certification of the EIR and approval of the Project. For information on how to join this meeting, visit the SJRRC events page

The ACE Ceres-Merced Extension Project was developed assuming that only one station would be built at either Livingston or Atwater. As such, the track infrastructure along the Ceres to Merced Extension Alignment that was identified for this Project and in this EIR was developed assuming only one station at either Livingston or Atwater. The EIR, therefore, sufficiently covers all potential environmental impacts for a Project with only one station at either Livingston or Atwater. If in the future, two stations (one at Livingston and one at Atwater) are advanced, this may require additional infrastructure along the Ceres to Merced Extension Alignment. If this scenario is advanced, then additional environmental review would be required to assess the potential environmental impacts from any additional infrastructure, as well as any additional changes (compared to what was included in this EIR) in a separate CEQA document. The kind of environmental document to be prepared would be determined when the additional infrastructure and any additional changes have been identified. This EIR can be used to tier from, as necessary. In summary, although this EIR only covers one station at either Livingston or Atwater, this would not preclude the development of a scenario with two stations (one at Livingston and one at Atwater) in the future.

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 prepared a Draft EIR and a Final 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. The EIR assessed and informed the public about potential impacts of the Project, including mitigation measures, where necessary. The Draft EIR was made available for public review and comment on April 22, 2021 (see below for links to materials presented at the virtual open house meetings for the Draft EIR held in May 2021). The Final EIR was published on November 19, 2021. 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?

  • In recent years, the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission (SJRRC) and the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority (SJJPA) have received several grants and funding for the implementation of the Valley Rail Program, of which the ACE Ceres–Merced Extension Project is a component. Major funding received includes: $400 million from Senate Bill (SB) 132 funds in 2017; a $500.5 TIRCP award in 2018; $100 million in funding from a TCEP grant; and a $20 million BUILD grant. In addition, other funds have been received from other local, regional, and state funding.
  • 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 has prepared an EIR for the current project – ACE Ceres–Merced Extension Project – which analyzes 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.
  • SJRRC filed a Notice of Availability for the ACE Ceres-Merced Extension Project Draft EIR on April 22, 2021. The Draft EIR was available for public review and comment from April 22, 2021 to June 7, 2021.
  • Three virtual open house meetings (webinars) were held to provide information on the Project and the Draft EIR analysis on May 13, 2021 and May 18, 20201. Materials from the virtual open house meetings are available below.
  • SJRRC published the Final EIR on November 19, 2021. The SJRRC Board will consider certification of the EIR and approval of the Project at its December 3, 2021 meeting. For information on how to join the Board Meeting and to view the agenda, visit the SJRRC events page

KEY PROJECT MILESTONES AND TIMELINE

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