State

Report considers valley commuting options

Commuter rail from Modesto to the Bay Area or Sacramento is a nice, far-off dream. The more realistic, short-term promise lies in van pooling, a report acknowledges.

Leaders from Lodi to Bakersfield pooled $200,000 for the San Joaquin Valley Express Transit Study, the valley's first comprehensive look at commute options.

Its author predicts that valley workers heading over the Altamont Pass will increase from 42,000 in 2000 to 74,000 by 2030. Those commuting to Sacramento will jump from 10,100 to 19,500 in the same period, NelsonNygaard Consulting Associates concludes.

But rail projects take huge amounts of time and money. A line from Stockton to Merced via Modesto could cost $200 million.

Leaders should continue courting the dream, but might pour more energy into ride-sharing, consultant Bonnie Nelson said. And in light of serious pending cuts to local transit money by cash-starved state officials, the valley might do well simply to retain its successful interregional bus routes, she said.

"Let's hang on to what we've got," Nelson said.

Such services from Modesto include buses to Altamont Commute Express trains carrying 3,500 riders daily, including about 350 from Stanislaus County.

The valley could work with air pollution officials to create more rules favoring ride-sharing, the study suggests, and leaders might create a regional ride-matching database.

The report also looks at connecting Southern California with south valley counties such as Kern, Tulare and Fresno. Commuters from the Los Angeles area to those counties will climb from 12,000 to 26,000 by 2030, NelsonNygaard predicts.

The valley's eight counties must avoid competing for transportation funding, Nelson said.

"When the whole valley bands together, does things in unison and recognizes that what benefits part of the valley benefits the whole valley, you have a whole lot more clout, a whole lot more power," Nelson said.

Transportation leaders throughout the valley are being asked to endorse the study. The issue is likely to go before the policy board of the Stanislaus Council of Governments at 6 p.m. June 10 in the basement chamber at Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St., Modesto.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or 578-2390.

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