Aug 28, 2023 - News

Why Charlotte’s Blue Line light rail never reached PNC Music Pavilion

CATS Blue Line

If you’ve been to a concert recently at PNC Music Pavilion, you probably know how annoying it can be to get into and out of the north Charlotte venue.

  • Roads are crowded. Parking is insufficient. And there are few other transportation options to reach the pavilion.

It leaves us wondering: Why did the Blue Line light rail never extend to the PNC Pavilion?

  • The extension, which opened in 2018, stops a few miles short, on UNC Charlotte’s campus.

Why it matters: It’s harder than ever to reach the PNC Pavilion as University City explodes with growth. Lines of traffic clog North Tryon Street and I-485 for hours before shows.

  • A fan of Dead & Company told our news partners at WBTV they missed the show because they couldn’t get a parking spot.
  • Small businesses are also feeling the burden as desperate concertgoers, left with few other parking options, fill their lots.
  • The light rail stopping close to the 18,000-guest amphitheater could have eased these issues.

Flashback: Charlotte Area Transit System did explore having the light rail go over I-485 during early planning days for the Blue Line extension, the agency confirmed.

  • Former CATS CEO Ron Tober tells Axios the plan was to build another park-and-ride garage on I-485 — not directly at the music venue, but close. Planners were more interested in the Blue Line heading toward the Charlotte Motor Speedway in Cabarrus County than the amphitheater, though. Plus, there’s also a park-and-ride at the opposite end of the line in Pineville.
  • “They needed to cut back on expenses, and they terminated it … at the university,” Tober said, “and that was a little controversial,” because then UNC Charlotte became the end of the line.

The big picture: CATS was looking to save around $92 million by shortening the route, the Observer reported in 2010. It was trying to shave $200 million off the total project costs to offset economic headwinds at the time. Revenue from the half-cent sales transit tax to help fund the project was falling short, while operating costs were rising.

  • CATS leaders also thought shortening the line would help them finish by 2016 instead of 2019 or later. The extension ended up opening in 2018.

If the original plan had been carried through, today there would be one stop at Mallard Creek Church and the other at I-485 and North Tryon — close to the Regal Starlight and the Walmart Neighborhood Market.

The intrigue: Likely no one had the foresight to imagine how many mobility options would’ve been available to reach the PNC Pavilion if there was a light rail stop that close today. Uber didn’t come to Charlotte until 2013. Lime didn’t launch scooters here until 2018.

What’s next: CATS says it will continue to “explore bus connections to serve the University Area” but didn’t answer further questions about the Blue Line extension.

Meanwhile, Live Nation, which operates PNC Pavilion, is working to ease congestion at the venue, like shuttling staff from an off-site parking location. For Janet Jackson’s and Dead & Company’s shows, Live Nation opened parking early to prepare for the high turnout.

  • “We are having a memorable season at PNC Music Pavilion,” Live Nation shared in a statement, adding that they coordinate with CMPD to manage traffic flow to and from the venue.
  • “For every show, we encourage fans to plan ahead and arrive early.”

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