The familiar whistle of the Dinky train could be heard in downtown Princeton again this morning after a week of silence. Construction crews worked through the weekend to prepare for the opening of the permanent Dinky train station on Alexander Street, and the station opened this morning.
Construction equipment still covered a major portion of the new Dinky station parking lot this morning. Traffic was slow along Alexander Street during the morning rush as drivers tried to figure out where to turn in to drop passengers off and construction crews continued work on Princeton University’s $320 million arts and transit project. Pedestrians heading to the station from the center of town struggled to figure out the quickest way to walk to the station because of all the construction.
The opening of the new station was a relief to many riders, who spent the last week commuting by bus. Several riders said lines for the buses were sometimes long and trains often were delayed, especially during rush hour because of traffic. One Planet Princeton reader reported having to wait more than a half an hour for a bus that was late during the morning rush last week. Several readers reported that they were late to work because of delays. Some chose to drive to the main station in Princeton Junction rather than depend on the bus.
The new Princeton station and Wawa building, which both have a modern look, were designed by Architect Rick Joy. The 1,265-square-foot station building, which has concrete pillars and a sharp angled roof, will open 30 minutes before the first train each day and close 30 minutes after the last train. There are canopied platform along the tracks, and ticket vending machines are located on the platform.
The new station connecting downtown Princeton to Princeton Junction is about 460 feet south of the former historic station buildings on University Place.
The new transit plaza includes short-term parking for Wawa patrons and “kiss-and-ride” parking, a drop-off and pickup area for drivers, bike racks, a new bike rental program, bus stops for NJ Transit, the University-operated TigerTransit and the FreeB, and a taxi stand. Drivers heading to the station from the center of town will need to allow extra time for dropping off passengers or parking during rush hour because the turns are lefthand turns, and traffic in the oncoming lane is steady during rush hour.
Many Princeton University employees who park in the West Garage on campus will have an easier time driving to the garage, one of the school’s main reasons cited for moving the station. A new road has been constructed leading from Alexander Street to the garage. The new North Station Drive will have a traffic signal at the intersection with Alexander Street. Access to the parking garage will be restricted to Princeton University drivers on weekdays from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m., and open to the public in the evenings and on weekends.
The Wawa, which will open Nov. 21 without an interruption in service, will be open 24 hours a day and will have public restrooms. A planted “green roof” tops the new building. The building is a long, black box that looks like a more modern version of train freight car or large cargo container.
Construction will continue over the next few years on the dining and arts buildings that are joining the other arts buildings in the area, including McCarter Theatre Center and creative writing and dance spaces in the New South building.
The café and restaurant, to be operated by the Terra Momo Restaurant Group and designed by Joy, will focus on serving locally grown and produced fare. The eateries will be located in the historic former train station buildings.
In summer 2015, a 54-seat pizzeria-style café will open in the former north station building, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as wine and beer. A liquor license has not been obtained for the café yet, school officials said. In fall 2016, the restaurant will open in the south station building formerly used for baggage handling. Terra Momo has proposed a farm-to-table restaurant serving lunch and dinner, with seating for 116 patrons inside and 60 outside. The University will expand the building before Terra Momo begins interior renovations.
Three arts buildings are slated to open by the 2017 fall semester. The arts and transit neighborhood will house the officers for the Lewis Center for the Arts, an art gallery, the Wallace Dance Building and Theater, practice rooms for music students, and a garden. Construction crews are currently working on the building’s concrete foundations and structure, and geothermal well drilling, officials said.
Two lawsuits filed by residents and the group Save the Dinky to stop the train station move are still active at the New Jersey Appellate Division level. One suit challenges the contract between New Jersey Transit and Princeton University for the sale of the historic Dinky Station and land surrounding the station. The other lawsuit challenges the legality of New Jersey Transit’s decision to truncate the Princeton Branch without any public hearing. Two other suits, filed by individual residents, are also still active regarding the zoning changes and the site plan approval for the arts and transit project.
More photos of the new station: