At long last, opening day is here for the $1.2 billion CATS Blue Line Extension. After ceremonies Friday morning, the light rail line from uptown to UNC Charlotte is scheduled to open to the public at 10 a.m.
Construction began five years ago on the 9.3-mile line, which adds 11 stations between Seventh Street uptown and the UNCC campus. Together with the southern leg, which opened in 2007, the Blue Line now runs 19 miles from Northeast Charlotte to I-485 in south Charlotte.
The extension offers a new route to work for commuters and a new way to get to entertainment - whether it's uptown, in NoDa or the university area. In fact, it could get a workout this weekend with NCAA college basketball tournament games and other activities.
“A lot of people are excited and we have a lot going on in Charlotte this weekend – the NCAA is here, St. Patrick's Day is going on. So just have a little patience as we deal with a lot of crowds,” said CATS spokeswoman Hillary Ryan.
The fare is unchanged — $2.20 one way, with discounts for seniors and students.
Until now, trains ran every 10 minutes at rush hour. With the extension opening, they'll run every 7 or 8 minutes at peak. It will take 57 minutes to go from one end to the other - and about 25 minutes from uptown to UNC Charlotte.
The new line also means new safety warnings for drivers along the line, Ryan said.
“What we want people to remember is there's a lot of new traffic patterns with trains, especially on North Tryon Street. Remember, if you see tracks think train,” Ryan said.
Friday's festivities include a rolling series of ribbon cuttings — first at UNC Charlotte Main Station at 10 a.m., then 36th Street in NoDa, and finally at 9th Street uptown at 10:25 a.m.
More information about the new line is at RIDETRANSIT.org