By LINDSAY OLIVIER
NORTH KINGSTOWN – North Kingstown is now officially home to commuter rail service and, if you ask the state and local officials or members of the public that attended Monday morning’s grand opening of the Wickford Junction Commuter Train Station, most would say it’s all because of the vision and persistence of one local businessman.
Over 100 people were on hand for a special event marking the station’s official opening, with many hoping onboard the ceremonial train ride that departed from Providence, made a stop at T.F. Green Airport and ultimately arrived at Wickford Junction at approximately 10:50 a.m.
The event drew dignitaries ranging from United States Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, Congressmen James Langevin and David Cicilline, Secretary of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation Richard Davey, North Kingstown Town Council President Liz Dolan and Director of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation Michael Lewis.
But it was Robert “Bob” Cioe, the local developer who spent over 20 years turning Wickford Junction from vision into reality, that drew the highest praise.
Cioe, who is responcible for developing the 450,000 square foot Wickford Junction site that is home to such businesses as Wal-Mart, Staples, Webster Bank and Junction Trattoria and Bistro, received praise from all who spoke Monday, many of whiom credited him with overseeing the project from start to finish, ultimately ahead of schedule and under budget.
“I’m taken aback of the turn-out this morning,” said Lewis. “This speaks volume that bringing the commuter line to North Kingstown has been and will always be the best decision.”
Many of the guests speakers spoke about the environmental impact the station will have, allowing travelers to reduce their carbon footprint by taking public transportation, all the while making the Route 4/I-95 corridor less congested.
Not only is the station good for the environment, Chafee said, but it’s good for the economy.
“This is in the best interest of South County,” Chafee said. “It’s going to broaden this economy more than ever, especially Quonset. This is the best example of smart growth.”
Chafee praised Cioe for his patience, tenacity and for “doing the right thing” when it came to development, calling him a “hands-on guy” who got the job done.
But it couldn’t have been done, Chafee said, without the help of Rhode Island’s delegation, especially Sen. Reed who helped secure nearly $33 million in federal funding in order to bring the commuter rail to South County. And plans are already in the works to continue the line down through Kingston and Westerly and with future hopes to connect through Connecticut.
Arriving late to the ceremony, LaHood was crediting with providing Rhode Island key support when the state has needed it, especially after the historic floods in March of 2010.
“Within an hour of our call, he called back and said ‘you have the money,’” Lewis said of LaHood, who he called ‘a great friend’.
“He’s always been there when anyone needed help and/or assistance.”
LaHood flew in from Washington, D.C. for the event, not only to say congratulations but to credit the state’s “terrific” delegation for the “outstanding” work they do.
“You also have a special governor,” he said. “I work with governors all around the country and I can honestly say there’s no better leader.”
LaHood also took time to cite the Train Station, which was designed and built through a public/private partnership with the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) and Cioe, as a counterpoint to nationwide commercials that have criticized the use of federal stimulus money.
“Well, this was paid for by stimulus money,” he said. “It worked and here we are.”
Construction on the project began in 2010 but the idea for a train station at Wickford Junction began formulating well over two decades ago.
Speaking to the packed crowd inside of the newly-completed parking garage, Cioe said that his dream for the project began in the 1950s when he was commuting from North Kingstown to Boston for college. It wasn’t until 30 years later, when he bought the land that would become Wickford Junction, that the pieces started to fall into place.
“What country can you dream a dream and live to see that dream happen?” Cioe asked. “Only in America.”
The construction of the station was performed by Manafort Brothers, Inc. of Connecticut in September of 2010. The Wickford Junction Train Station and Garage was designed and built through a Public/Private Partnership with RIDOT and the developers of Wickford Junction.
The four-story parking garage is managed by ProPark America and can accommodate 1,100 vehicles and it costs just four dollars a day to park. The 848-foot platform is equipped with seating and covered areas while the garage has automated cashless ticket machines to make entry and exit convenient.
The garage, station, platform and bathrooms are compliant with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the bathrooms and indoor waiting areas are heated, with an in-station coffee and snack shop on site to provide an additional convenience to riders.
Also, as a look to the future of travel, the garage has a “juice bar”, which will allow travelers who drive electric and hybrid vehicles to charge them at one of five charging stations located on the first floor of the garage.
Safety was also a concern. The garage was built with glass-back elevators, has security cameras throughout and “pull for emergency” stations are located near all stairwells and elevators to give commuters the security to park and board the train without worry. The garage is also well-lit with environmentally friendly LED lighting and motion sensors to ensure safety.
The architectural inspiration for the train station came from the former Lafayette Mill, which is located just down the road.
The travel fare from Wickford Junction to T.F. Green will cost $2.25 each way. The cost from Wickford Junction to Providence is $2.50 each way. Travel between Wickford and Boston’s South Station will cost $9 each way. The prices will increase to $3, $3.25 and $11, respectively, beginning on July 1.
Tickets are half price for seniors, as well as those with physical disabilities. Children 11 years-old and younger are free when accompanied by a paying adult.
Monthly passes for unlimited travel between Wickford and Providence will cost $89 from now until July 1 and $109 after that date. Monthly passes for unlimited travel between Wickford and South Station, meanwhile, will cost $280 now and $345 beginning in July.
The ride from Wickford to Providence is only 35 minutes long and it will take travelers who want to head to Boston less than two hours to arrive at South Station.
The station will provide weekday Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) service to T.F. Green Airport in Warwick, Providence and Boston. Weekend service is expected to be added later, if there proves to be a demand.
For more information on the station and schedules, visit www.wickfordjunction.com .