Trains were packed on the Lynx Blue Line Extension Friday morning as the $1.2 billion light rail line opened to the public for the first time. There was lots of pomp and circumstance, including ribbon cuttings, confetti cannons and free "First To Ride" T-shirts.
Those first riders included city leaders, students, transit fans and business people, as well as those who came out to be a part of city history.
"It is a historic day for the city," said Carolina Diaz of Concord. She was riding back and forth on the line with her family to see where it goes.
"I think it makes the city more accessible."
UNC Charlotte junior Jeremy Williams was on the first train. “I just wanted to be one of the first to ride,” he said.
Williams says he has been riding the southern section of the line and looks forward to using the extension, too. “I don’t have a car, so it’ll be pretty nice to have this,” he said.
Joe Kuhlmann was on the train back to NoDa, where he owns a music club called The Evening Muse. He thinks it will be good for neighborhood businesses.
"Lots of people moving in and gonna be living really close to the neighborhood, so that really helps," Kuhlmann said. "But I mean I think it's mostly a big step for Charlotte, big economic growth, being able to get people back and forth, hopefully to work. Cut down on pollution, cut down on congestion. Those are the things I'm looking forward to with it."
The southern segment of the Blue Line opened in 2007. The new northeast section runs 9.3 miles from 7th Street uptown to UNC Charlotte. It took five years to build, including 11 new stations along the way.
Ribbon cuttings were held at three of the stations, beginning with the UNC Charlotte Main Station on the university campus at 10 a.m. CATS chief executive John Lewis then led the first riders to NoDa for a second ribbon cutting, then on to 9th Street Station, where they were met by Mayor Vi Lyles, former Mayor Jennifer Roberts and other local officials.
Lewis has overseen the five-year construction project, which doubles the length of the Blue Line. It now reaches from I-485 in south Charlotte to northeast Charlotte.
"This ride, even though I've done it probably 10 times, this was the best one," Lewis said as he stepped off the train at 9th Street. "Actually picking up passengers, and feeling the excitement and watching the passengers excitement really was special."
Before the train arrived at 9th Street, Lyles told a couple of hundred people that it was a moment worthy of celebration. She said it will give people another option for getting to work and school and help break down barriers to economic mobility.
"Think about this downtown development, the connections we now have north and south. Think about the connections we have with our educational systems, our universities, our school system, and how we can connect jobs," Lyles said.
At-large city council member Braxton Winston was one of those who arrived at the 9th Street Station from NoDa, where he lives. He's a video photographer and was on his way to work.
"It was fantastic," Winston said. "I actually rode the train from my home stop at 36th Street. This is actually my commute, 'cause I have to work at the arena all day shooting the NCAA games."
The line's opening came on the first day of the NCAA men's basketball tournament regionals, being held this weekend at Spectrum Arena uptown.
With the opening of the extension, Blue Line trains will now run more frequently at rush hour — every 7 or 8 minutes instead of every 10 minutes. Fares are unchanged, $2.20 for a one-way ride, $4.40 round trip.
It will take 57 minutes to go from one end to the other and about 25 minutes from uptown to UNC Charlotte.
Find out more about the Blue Line extension, schedules and fares at RideTransit.org