The 4:45 p.m. train from Boston pulled into the new $44.5 million Salem MBTA commuter rail and bus station on a cold Friday evening.
For the first time in 16 months, passengers did not have to brace for a swift walk to nearby parking lots, or dash to the “Kiss ’N Ride,” a temporary drop-off/pickup area set up at the entrance to the station on Bridge Street.
Instead, they walked straight from the train into the 715-space brick-and-glass parking garage, built with all the bells and whistles of a modern transportation center. There is room to park Zip cars, plug in electric cars, store bicycles, or hop on a bus.
“It’s very convenient,” said Jamie Ertan, 39, of Salem, who works in medical billing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “You get dropped off right there,” she said, pointing to the first-floor platform. “And you can just walk right to your car.”
The five-story garage, officially opened last Monday during a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by MBTA and government leaders, replaces a 460-space parking lot.
“It will be good in the winter,” said Jose Del Valle 34, of Peabody, who takes the train three days a week to his job as a credentialing coordinator at Massachusetts General Hospital. “You won’t have to worry about shoveling snow out around your car.”
Kathy Connolly of Peabody, who commutes to her accounting job in Boston, at first was skeptical about replacing the old parking lot.
“I do like the new garage,” said Connolly, 67, who has been commuting from the station for 12 years. “I didn’t think I was going to. I was afraid. It was a parking garage and it just made me nervous, but I’m good with it now.”
Safety features include security cameras and emergency call boxes throughout the garage and adjacent bus terminal. There is 24-hour staffing, with a full-time employee on duty along with two extra workers during peak commuter times, according to the MBTA.
The Salem opening follows the August opening of a $34.1 million, four-story, 500-space parking garage at the rail station in downtown Beverly, which by the audit’s count averages 2,058 weekday commuters.
Parking rates at each garage begin at $5 for the first 14 hours, and rise to $12 after that for the rest of the day, and $12 for each additional day.
The Salem facility, first proposed more than 20 years ago, is a critical improvement for one of the MBTA’s busiest stations, said Beverly A. Scott, the MBTA’s general manager.
“This has been long, long overdue,” Scott said during the ribbon-cutting. “This is a wonderful, wonderful facility. It really underpins what we’ve not only been talking about, but . . . really doing in terms of being green and accessible.”
‘You won’t have to worry about shoveling snow out around your car.’
Along with charging stations for electric cars, the garage’s other ecofriendly features include energy-efficient lighting and snow-melting equipment on the roof, according to the T.
The project was paid for with $36.8 million in state transportation funding, $4.8 million in federal funding, $549,140 in MBTA funding, and $500,000 from Salem, according to a cost breakdown from the T.
US Representative John F. Tierney, a Salem Democrat, said the federal investment was part of a larger plan to improve parking at train stations stretching from Salem to Newburyport and Rockport.
“We got it done, as an example of people working together, to let their representatives at every level [of government] form a partnership,” said Tierney, who will leave Congress in January after losing his reelection bid in the September primary.
State Senator Joan B. Lovely, a Salem Democrat, saluted passengers for their patience during the Salem facility’s construction.
“Thank you to the commuters who really put up with a little bit of a headache, and a little bit of heartburn, trying to get in and out of this facility while it was underway,” said Lovely, a former Salem city councilor.
Construction crews are putting the finishing touches on the facility. The fifth floor of the garage is due to open by Monday.
A pedestrian walkway from Bridge Street and paving and striping on a new bus platform are also due to be completed by Monday. Landscaping around the facility, which abuts the North River, will be completed next spring, according to the T.Kathy McCabe can be reached at katherine.mccabe@
globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKMcCabe.