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The Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) yesterday kicked off construction of the LYNX Blue Line extension, which will add light rail service from downtown Charlotte, N.C., to the city's University of North Carolina campus.Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff joined North Carolina Gov. Patrick McCory, Charlotte Mayor Patsy Kinsey and other local officials to celebrate the start of the new project, which will double the length of the existing light-rail system, create new development opportunities and expand transit options, Federal Transit Administration (FTA) officials said in a press release.The FTA is providing CATS with a $580 million Full Funding Grant Agreement through the New Starts program for the $1.16 billion project. The remaining cost will be covered by state and local dollars."This project will create thousands of jobs during construction, create economic opportunity by connecting the city's financial, high-tech and cultural centers with the thriving UNC-Charlotte campus, and give commuters an alternative to sitting in traffic on Interstate 85 and U.S. 29," said Rogoff.Since the initial light-rail line opened in 2007, more than 24 million riders have used the service. The line averages 16,000 riders on week days. When the 9.3-mile LYNX Blue Line extension opens in 2017, CATS officials estimate it will more than double the system's total light-rail ridership.The LYNX Blue Line extension is the latest U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) investment in Charlotte. In addition to the Blue Line extension funding, the department will provide $18 million under the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant program to expand capacity on the existing Blue Line by building additional power substations and extending platforms at three stations.USDOT also is providing $25 million to help the city build an initial 1.5-mile section of the Charlotte Streetcar line to connect riders to local bus and light-rail service. Construction on that line is under way and scheduled for completion in March 2015.