Ribbon cutting held for blue line extension ahead of March 16 opening

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - In two and a half weeks, Charlotte plans to open the $1.1 billion dollar blue line expansion. It will connect uptown Charlotte to the northeast corridor. The extension is 9.3 miles long and will run through NoDa before ending on the campus of UNC Charlotte.

"We won't recognize this corridor in the next 10 years. We will not recognize how it has changed for the positive," said former Charlotte Mayor and North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory.

Pat McCrory explained that the idea started back many years ago with him and several other leaders.

"It started as a drawing on a napkin and to now see that napkin. To see the little lines on a napkin come to fruition is really amazing," said McCrory.

The project is one of the most expensive public works projects in the city's history.

"We are on time with our federal grant and we are going to come in under budget," said CATS CEO John Lewis.  "Over 10,000 individual systems and connections and we had some challenges along the way."

The final stop will be on the UNCC campus and university leaders believe the connectivity will only help grow the campus.

"The increased connectivity is going to increase the universities growth dramatically," said Bob Morgan, the President and CEO of Charlotte Chamber of Commerce. "Land values are going to increase, development opportunities are going to increase. For those that have retail along here, more people are going to be moving along this corridor. This is about growth."

"I have set a target of 35,000 students but we could possibly handle 40,000. But, now with the ability to use our center city building more effectively there is no telling what the cap is," said UNCC Chancellor Philip Dubois.

The project has had to overcome some hurdles including a need for increase funding and technical issues.

"To quote Bob Dylan, 'there are blood on these tracks.' It was well worth it. I remember at one point it was called the McCrory line and that was not a good thing. Now, it is called the blue line because it is working," said McCrory.

City leaders point to southend as an example of what may in the future for the northeast corridor.

"I would imagine we see that same economic development over a similar time frame of 10-15 years," said Councilman Tariq Bokhari. "We have to make sure we also, in parallel focus on our roads and what is happening there."

"We have already seen $500 million in investments along the corridor that are complete or in the process. I expect that to grow and continue," said Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles. "You do not have to have a car to connect to the opportunity for a job."

The blue line extension will open officially for public use on March 16. It will cost $2.20 for a one way ticket.

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