Montclair State University station: a disappointment with a future?

800px-MSU_station

Did we really need the clocktower?

Montclair State University station has been a bust, you could say.  NJ Transit opened the station in 2004 with high hopes, located just off Route 46 at Clove Road. The station is massive. It has a full-length completely covered high level platform, a climate-controlled bridge over the tracks accessible by four elevators, a huge clock tower, and a parking structure with 1,530 spaces.  All of this at the cost of $26 million.

The ridership never materialized. Despite 1,530 parking spots, average daily ridership was just 592 passengers in 2014.  Some of the spare capacity is used as parking for Montclair State students.  Here’s a sign of how disappointing ridership has been.  Originally, there was a small shop built into the parking structure selling coffee and pastries.  The shop has since closed.

The station is grossly overbuilt.  It didn’t live up to expectations mainly because of its poor location.  For one thing, it isn’t even very convenient to the university.  Most of the campus is actually closer to Montclair Heights Station, or at least an easier walk.  The area near the station has a few dorms and sports fields.

Here’s what Montclair State university tells visitors:

The Montclair Heights train station, located at the south end of campus, is just a few steps away from the main body of the campus. The Montclair State University train station, located at the northwest end of campus, has a campus shuttle service to the main campus area.

In other words, the station is so far from the campus it’s named after that they recommend taking a bus.

The station doesn’t provide time-competitive service to New York.  Midtown Direct trains take about 55 minutes to get to Penn Station.  In comparison, the Wayne/ Route 23 park-and-ride is about 40 minutes from the Port Authority, and it’s several miles farther away. Its 1,100 space parking lot regularly fills up and there’s an overflow lot a few miles up the road.

Furthermore, the station doesn’t have access to Route 46 west.  Clove Road is currently only an exit on 46 east.  It’s easy for suburbanites from Little Falls, West Paterson, and other towns to drive to the station, but getting back involves a 5+ minute detour on local roads, or taking 46 east, getting off the highway, making two left turns, and merging back onto 46 west. But this is about to change.

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 11.45.24 PMFor nearly a decade, NJDOT has been preparing to revamp the interchange between Route 3 and Route 46, including the Clove Road exit.  As part of the first construction contract for this project, they will build a bridge over the highway, a roundabout, and a new ramp onto 46 west.

In essence, this will fix the highway access problem. Construction starts/started in 2015.

Once the bridge and on-ramp are completed in 2017-2018 or so, it’ll be easier for commuters to drive to and from the station. This will greatly lessen the inconvenience of the station, but won’t eliminate it completely. The bus will usually still be faster for people going to Midtown, but parking and taking the train might be competitive for the Jersey City and Lower Manhattan market segments.

In the end, ridership at the station will rise, but it will still be nearly half empty.  Millions of dollars were wasted building a park and ride station with far more capacity than it will ever need.  This is not an isolated incident.  Take for example Ramsey Route 17 Station, opened in 2004. The station has 1,274 parking spots, and an average of 607 riders a day. The station cost $27.5 million to build– $39 million including land acquisition and other expenses.

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