CATS is zeroing in on light rail expansion to Pineville, Ballantyne

The LYNX Blue Line could someday run to Pineville and Ballantyne. Photo: Nancy Pierce

The Charlotte Area Transit System took another step towards expanding the region’s transit network this week, with recommendations for how to extend the Blue Line light rail about five miles through Pineville to Ballantyne. 

At the Metropolitan Transit Commission, staff presented their preferred routes, which would take the rail line across Carolina Place Mall along Interstate 485, then south and east into the heart of Ballantyne Corporate Park. 

The MTC plans to vote next month on formally adopting the recommended route and incorporating it into the CATS 2030 transit expansion plan. From there, staff would be able to start designing the line and preserving the right-of-way, so there’s a place to actually build the train once funding is secured.

Bringing light rail to Pineville and Ballantyne would be significant for several reasons. In the early 2000s, during planning for the initial Blue Line, Pineville’s town council said “no thanks” to transit because they were concerned about too much growth. Last year, the town council reversed the earlier decision, formally asking CATS to include it in expansion plans. 

And Ballantyne, which grew up in the mid-1990s as an auto-centric office park at a beltway interchange, was once a poster child for suburban development. But Northwood Office, which paid almost $1.2 billion for the corporate park in 2017, is pursuing ambitious plans to turn Ballantyne into a dense, mixed-use, urban development, and transit is a key component of that. 

Here are some more details on what CATS staff is recommending:

  • Running the Blue Line extension south from its current terminus at I-485 along the highway, to the east, then cutting along Pineville-Matthews Road and going south along Carolina Place Parkway, by the mall. From there, the recommended route would go southeast along I-485 before turning to go through Ballantyne Corporate Park and across U.S. 521. The terminus would be located on the east side of the corporate park, near Community House Road. 
CATS staff recommendations. The light rail extension through Pineville to Ballantyne Corporate Park is in purple. Graphic: Charlotte Area Transit System.
  • In the short term, staff is also recommending using the I-485 toll lanes for bus rapid transit from the Blue Line to Ballantyne Corporate Park. Those lanes are expected to open in about three years. 
  • Long term, CATS also plans to evaluate whether and how it would be feasible to extend mass transit into York and Lancaster counties in South Carolina. 

Regional transit plans are gaining momentum in Charlotte. The 2030 plan also includes the Silver Line, a light rail corridor that would run from Matthews to uptown Charlotte, then west past Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Plans call for that line to extend into Union County to the southeast and across the Catawba River to Gaston County in the west. And Cabarrus County officials have asked CATS to study extending rail past its current northern terminus at UNC Charlotte, possibly into Concord and Kannapolis. 

The biggest hurdle to these plans is likely to be money. CATS hasn’t done detailed cost estimates, but a major expansion is sure to cost billions of dollars. And regional transit would require a regional funding model - a first for Charlotte and its surrounding counties.