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Passengers will be able to ride the new light rail extension at some point in March, according to CATS. (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)

Passengers will be able to ride the new light rail extension at some point in March, according to CATS. (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)

News to Watch 2018: Right on Track 

Light rail extension set to open in March

The day we thought would never come is almost upon us.

The Blue Line Extension that will allow passengers to ride from Historic South End through Uptown and now into NoDa and the University area in north Charlotte is set to open on time — and might even open before that, believe it or not.

As was pointed out by Andrew Dunn of Charlotte Agenda on Twitter recently, a CATS report published earlier in December made it sound as if the new tracks north of Uptown might be ready to open sooner than expected.

Page 28 of the report reads, "CATS evaluated the existing 5-month duration for Pre-Revenue service and determined that the activities required for Pre-Revenue service could be completed within 3 months, by 2/1/18."

Sounds promising, right? But like the Double Rainbow guy once queried, "What does it all mean?"

According to CATS spokesperson Juliann Sheldon, just because the tracks are ready for "pre-revenue service" doesn't mean riders will be hopping on any time before Valentine's Day. It simply means the contractors in charge of building the tracks believe they will be ready to ride by February, but CATS still has work to do to make sure folks can ride the rail safely.

"Our contractor did come out and say that their pre-revenue service would be available on February 1," Sheldon said. "However, CATS does have a certain amount of testing that needs to be done and we need to make sure all the i's are dotted and t's are crossed before opening the line to passengers."

We're all for that, especially considering that the new path resembles a rollercoaster compared to the flat terrain of the existing track between lower South End and Uptown.

At-large Charlotte City Council rep Dimple Ajmera is one of the few people who have ridden the new tracks already, and she said the most enjoyable part of it was seeing the art along the new extension.

"If you look at each station, we have a local talent that has helped us put public art there, and some students were involved that did participate in these arts projects," Ajmera said. "There's lots of creativity that has gone into this project, and lots of local talent, so it was great to see all that finally being created and ready in March."

So the question remains: When, in March, can we expect to be able to hitch a ride all the way north to south?

According to the report, CATS officials say it would be "prudent" to speed up the process a little bit, writing in the report that they should plan for a potentially earlier date for riders than the previously scheduled March 31. Sheldon said she could not comment on the potential for moving up the date, only that the new route would be opening in March.

That's more than fine with us, as we don't want anybody rushing through the checks and balances needed to ensure riders' safety. The contractors kept the construction on track — over the last year, at least — and now all we need, CATS, is for you to actually keep us on the tracks.

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