CATS says the long-awaited Blue Line light rail extension from uptown to UNC Charlotte will open Friday, March, 16. That's just in time for the opening games of the NCAA men's basketball tournament at the Hornets' arena uptown.
CATS CEO John Lewis delivered the news to the city council Monday night.
“We've progressed sufficiently along in our testing of the alignment that we're at a point where we can announce a date. And the date that we will open will be Friday March 16,” Lewis said.
There was silence, and one council member said: “Why is no one cheering?”
“I think everyone's in a state of shock,” Lewis replied, and council members broke into laughter.
Construction on the 9.3 mile extension began in 2013, and the line had been expected to open last August, in time for the start of classes at UNC Charlotte.
But last February, CATS announced it was delaying the opening until this spring, citing "construction coordination challenges" and testing delays.
March 16 is the first day of March Madness, the NCAA men’s Division I college basketball tournament. The opening means fans will be able to ride the light rail from both north and south Charlotte to first and second-round games at Spectrum Arena that weekend.
CATS says trains will run every 7½ minutes at peak. The ride will take 22 minutes and stop at 11 stations between 7th street uptown and the university. A one-way fare is $2.20, with discounts for students, seniors and people with disabilities.
The southern section of the Lynx Blue Line opened in 2007, and runs from uptown to I-485 in south Charlotte.
Lewis said the opening is two weeks ahead of the revised schedule. And he said the line will be under budget.
Pre-revenue test runs along the full 19-mile length of the line will begin Jan. 21, CATS said.