Article by  and originally appeared on Charlotte Business Journal January 

The long-anticipated opening of the Blue Line Extension now has a date.

During Charlotte City Council’s dinner meeting on Monday, Charlotte Area Transit System CEO John Lewis announced that the first day of revenue service for the light-rail line’s second leg will be Friday, March 16.. The Blue Line Extension will open two weeks ahead of the Federal Transit Administration’s grant agreement deadline of March 31 and will come in under budget, Lewis said.

The $1.2 billion Blue Line Extension is adding 9.3 miles and 11 stations to the existing north-south line. It will run from uptown to UNC Charlotte, starting from the 7th Street Station, then heading north into neighborhoods including Optimist Park, NoDa and University City before terminating at UNC Charlotte.

Federal grants are funding half of the Blue Line Extension’s construction cost while local and state government are each funding 25%.

The extension, which began construction in 2014, has already spurred development along the line, similar to the real estate momentum seen over the past 10 years along the original 10-mile line from Pineville into uptown. About $350 million in development is so far completed, proposed or under construction along the extension, according to a November estimate from CATS.

Pre-revenue service testing is scheduled to begin the week of Jan. 21, including simulated service from the I-485 Station to the UNC Charlotte Main Station, according to CATS. Light-rail vehicles will stop at all stations during that time, but stations will not be open to the public until March 16.

Also this month, CATS will perform two emergency drills, including a bridge evacuation drill in conjunction with the Charlotte Fire Department and a full-scale emergency exercise.

The Blue Line Extension was originally expected to begin service in August 2017. But last February, Lewis told City Council that there wasn’t enough time to complete all required testing to open the extension by the summer.