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Public Officials Take First Ride On Blue Line Extension

Alex Olgin

In two weeks, the Blue Line light rail extension will finally open to the public. Local, state and federal officials were able to ride the rail on its new path Monday, which extends nine miles from uptown to UNC Charlotte. There’s excitement about the opening and the future, but concern about if the extension will reduce traffic now.

Riding the extension, Councilman Larken Egleston pointed out all the new businesses that have popped up along the tracks near the Sugar Creek Station.

“All the industrial buildings that have been re-used,” he said. “It is really extending what people see as kind of NoDA cultural district.”

Egleston expects more to develop around the light rail. Enabling people from the UNC Charlotte main campus to go uptown for class or for work is important to Mayor Vi Lyles. She sees this, in conjunction with affordable housing, as a way to achieve a more equal city.

“It’s part of our overall strategy for upward mobility,” she said. “It’s like a puzzle. We are continuing to put the puzzle parts together. [It'll take] many, many pieces to do it.”  

Even though the Charlotte Area Transit system expects 24,500 average weekday trips on this line by 2035, cars are currently the primary way to get around Charlotte. This is the case for Councilman Tariq Bokhari’s district in south Charlotte. 

“While this is great, impressive and [is] a long-term plan in place, we need to not forget about the short-term pieces of our road infrastructure and congestion," Bokhari said. 

Uber driver Lesley Lancaster agrees with Bokhari. She said she isn’t concerned about the growing light rail eating into her business made up mostly of millennial professionals.

Lancaster said passengers have told her that taking the bus or taking the train is for people that can’t afford any other mode of transportation.

Lancaster also said, "I've also had people tell me they don’t feel safe necessarily in train stations or waiting at bus stops.”

The extended service will open to the public March 16.

CATS CEO John Lewis says the technical issue that caused all of the crossing arm gates to close along the extension last week has been fixed.

“It was a hardware problem and we have found the issue,” Lewis said. “We’ve replaced the hardware. Now we’ll continue to test that over the next few weeks, but we are confident that we have found the problem.” 

Lewis says the next three extensions to bring the light rail to the western, eastern and northern parts of the county are still underway. Preliminary costs for the blue line extension and other three lines will likely be between $6 and $8 billion.