Arlington, regional officials consider local funds to pay for World Cup improvements
The Mexico fans from Tyler have made the trip to Arlington seven times to support their team. And Sanchez plans to keep it up here, in Houston and Mexico City, traveling as needed to watch one of the largest sporting events in the world: the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
While the journey from Tyler to Arlington and to the stadium itself was fairly easy, she did note more signage in other languages — including Spanish — could be helpful for visitors as would be increased transportation options and better communication across the entertainment district.
“That would be very helpful for a lot of people,” Sanchez said.
The fast-moving timeline for North Texas to make improvements in and around Arlington’s Entertainment District before the start of the 2026 World Cup is forcing officials to seek immediate funding.
The North Central Texas Council of Governments, a regional planning organization, and the city of Arlington are exploring temporarily redirecting $17.5 million in bond funding from a Randol Mill Road widening project slated to start in late 2024 toward improvements of streets, sidewalks and signage around AT&T Stadium.
The city would make temporary improvements to the stretch of road between Cooper and Collins Streets before 2026, and NCTCOG would work with the city to secure federal funding for the Randol Mill Road project instead.
The funding exchange would clear the way for improvements around the stadium without federal funding — a process that could take longer than the cities have allotted to gear up for the international event, Keith Brooks, Arlington’s public works director, said.
If approved by NCTCOG and the city, Randol Mill could be repaved with asphalt before the World Cup, while construction, as laid out in the bond, would occur after the event.
“We would kind of have a mess out there, and that’s not something we wanted to present to the world. … The World Cup came along and it’s like, ‘OK, we need to kind of rethink how we implement this project,’” Brooks said.
The Regional Transportation Committee will likely vote on the proposal Oct. 12, according to Brian Wilson, communications supervisor for the council’s transportation department.
A four-phased approach to ‘Jerry World’ improvements
The North Central Texas Council of Governments has laid out four phases for improvements to the entertainment district. The first phase already was awarded nearly $2 billion for sidewalks, trees and amphitheater space relating to the National Medal of Honor Museum.
Karla Windsor, senior program manager for sustainable development with the council of governments, said some improvements necessary for the All-Star Game will be prioritized, but all $17.5 million in improvements in the district will be completed by 2026 – in time for the World Cup.
“The city (of Arlington) then will be the implementer of these items so they will start sort of dividing and conquering,” she said. “Not all of the improvements will be in by the All-Star Game next year, but a handful of them are critical to it, and those are probably the ones who’ll get started with first.”
The council is expected to use the $17.5 million exchanged with the city of Arlington to address operations, transit, streetscapes and safety needs ahead of both major events. The $17.5 million for improvements in the entertainment district includes:
- $6 million to add dynamic message sign boards, improve software and enhance traffic signals;
- $3 million to improve the TRE Centerpoint Station, create bus staging sites and other transit enhancements; and
- $8 million to improve sidewalks, lighting and crosswalks near the stadium as well as add wayfinding signage.
Under the proposal, NCTCOG would receive an additional $750,000 for signs around the stadium from the Texas Department of Transportation.
Windsor described transit enhancements as anything from pickup and drop-off zones at the TRE Station and additional bus capacity from the station to the entertainment district to training for additional drivers.
“That will be flushed out in the near future, but it’s just creating more efficient transit points between the different locations to get to the stadium,” she said.
Those infrastructure needs were identified by the council of governments’ three subcommittees formed ahead of the global event.
The council of governments considers planning beyond 2026 “phase four.”
Currently, the closest transit station to Arlington’s Entertainment District is about 8 miles away by car. For Houston resident and soccer fan Giann Leandri, having a transit option similar to the trains in his home country of Australia would allow spectators to safely attend games.
“You don’t have to drive in. You don’t have to worry about having a skipper or someone who’s staying sober or something like that. It just makes it so much easier,” he said while in Arlington to watch his team play in the friendly.
Others remain satisfied with what is already available around AT&T Stadium.
Edith and Princton Herron parked a mile up the road at Copeland Parking to attend the Mexico versus Australia game Sept. 9. They paid $40 to park — a discounted rate — and have quick highway access. It’s cheaper than a round trip using rideshare companies like Uber, which can be exorbitantly more expensive after events.
All things considered, the experience was smooth, Princton Herron said.
“I honestly think everything’s great. Jerry’s done a pretty good job at Jerry World,” he said of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
Interim Randol Mill maintenance
While the city of Arlington waits to see whether it will be awarded the grant to widen Randol Mill Road, interim maintenance will continue. That includes smoothing out rough spots.
“It’s not necessarily the full project – just (enough) to make sure that we have a nice roadway to present for the World Cup. Then we would take the actual bond project that would now be federalized and start it after the World Cup,” Brooks said.
The swap of funds will not need to go before voters. All that is needed is an authorization between the city of Arlington and the council of governments to exchange the money, Brooks said.
This exchange gives Arlington twice as much money to get improvements around the city completed, Windsor said.
“At the end of the day, instead of just having $17.5 million, the city has that times two that will be invested,” Windsor said.
Construction on Randol Mill Road – which received $17 million from a 2021 county bond package and $35 million from a 2023 city bond package – was slated to begin in 2024 and would likely have been still underway during the World Cup, Brooks said.
In exchange, NCTCOG will provide Arlington with $3.8 million from regional toll revenue funds for Randol Mill Road’s temporary improvements. The council will also direct $17.5 million in Surface Transportation Block Grant Funds, if awarded, to the city and match it with Regional Transportation Credits, to fund the proposed widening as voted on in the 2023 bond package.
“Our understanding was (NCTCOG) felt very, very certain that they would be able to get this. And so that’s why we were looking at the potential of moving forward with this type of situation,” Brooks said.
Sandra Sadek is a Report for America corps member, covering growth for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ssadek19. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policyhere.
Kailey Broussard covers Arlington for KERA News, with a focus on how development and local government decisions affect communities. You can contact Kailey at email@example.com or on Instagram @kailey.broussard. KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today.