News for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Regional officials consider traffic challenges for 2026 World Cup. Here’s what we know so far

AT&T Stadium with the Richard Greene Linear Park trail and pond in foreground.
Yfat Yossifor
/
KERA
AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, seen from the Richard Greene Linear Park in Arlington.

This story, produced in collaboration with KERA, is part two of an ongoing series looking at how North Texas is preparing to host the 2026 World Cup. Read part one here

When visitors arrive in North Texas for the FIFA World Cup in 2026, they will find themselves heading to the AT&T Stadium in a variety of ways: classic transportation options such as shuttles, bikes and scooters as well as more novel methods like helipads and other emerging technologies.

For local officials planning the event, nothing is yet off the table.

The North Central Texas Council of Governments, a regional planning organization, has been meeting with partners across the region for the last six months to identify and address road and transportation needs.

Among those priorities is how best to get people to Arlington’s entertainment district. While the city has a publicly subsidized rideshare service, Via, it has no regional transit stops near the stadium.

At this time, there are many unknowns for Arlington and the surrounding region. It’s difficult to put a price tag on the estimated costs of infrastructure improvements as no list of priorities has been established, said Karla Windsor, senior program manager for sustainable development with the Council of Governments.

“(Compared to building) a sidewalk in Frisco, it might be a million dollars more to build the same sidewalk in Fort Worth,” Windsor said. “It's very unique to the utilities, to the right of way, constrained to existing signals, vegetation. We've got to dive a lot deeper into that to put those estimates together.”

Getting all involved parties to agree on priorities and where to allocate resources is one of the many challenges ahead of the global event, said Natalie Bettger, senior program manager for congestion with the Council of Governments.

An initial plan identifying improvements around Arlington’s Entertainment District will be presented to the Regional Transportation Council at its Sept. 14 meeting. The council will vote to adopt the plan in October.

The Jerry Jones Family and Dallas Cowboys announced they’ll invest an additional $350 million into interior stadium improvements, with hopes to complete renovations by kickoff in 2026, according to the Dallas Morning News.

As for how the region will tackle traffic and transportation, Bettger said, those plans will be unveiled later on in the process as the ball gets rolling and the location of each event North Texas is hosting is finalized.

A regional approach to transit brings innovation

Monica Paul, executive director of the Dallas Sports Commission, is not too worried about the logistics of welcoming thousands of fans to the largest sporting event in the world.

Despite Arlington not having conventional public transit or train stops anywhere near AT&T Stadium, Paul said, past entertainment district-area events have set up the region for larger-scale events.

The most recent example is WrestleMania. Staff planned bus routes and drop-off points while collaborating with different rail systems. The two-night event in 2022 brought in more than 150,000 fans, according to WWE.

“(We said), ‘OK, let's start to put a smaller world transportation plan in motion just for WrestleMania, knowing the World Cup has many more people as well as many more days,’” Paul said.

Hosting a World Cup can cost millions when it comes to preparing and developing the infrastructure to welcome millions of visitors for a month. Qatar, the 2022 host country, reportedly spent over $200 billion in preparation for the event, including overhauling its entire road network and constructing a rail system.

Affecting final decisions on how transportation will be handled at the upcoming World Cup is how many coveted FIFA events the region will score. Fort Worth city officials and FC Dallas have stated they’ll apply to become a base camp host for a national team. Regional leaders are also vying to bring in the World Cup’s Referee Headquarters, International Broadcasting Center and a Fan Festival to the metroplex.

The average stay of a World Cup visitor is four days. Regardless of the events the Metroplex will host, it will be a regional draw, Paul said. She envisions World Cup travelers visiting the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Frisco or the Dallas Stars headquarters.

“I don’t think it’s all on one city’s shoulders. I think it’s one of the benefits, that we do have many cities and many counties that can enjoy this World Cup,” she said.

When it comes to guaranteeing teams, staff and fans can get to and from AT&T Stadium, there’s “a menu of options,” Windsor said.

The possibilities include using the Union Pacific Railroad line for regional passengers; repurposing lanes on interstates for expedited bus transport; or even employing helipads to move people.

“We may even dive into bikes, scooters or just how to use all of the modes to get people around internally and from external sites,” Windsor said.

The region’s World Cup planning will also benefit from experience hosting previous large-scale events, including the Super Bowl XLV in 2011 at AT&T Stadium — then known as Cowboys Stadium. With help from other agencies and event promoters, NCTCOG designated dates and times to repurpose the managed lane for bus travel and offered regional transportation passes to event-goers.

“That’s one thing we’ll work with our transit partners on, is trying to develop that pass that allows them to utilize the transit system to pretty much anywhere in the region that transit can go to,” Bettger said.

Until the location of the final game is announced and final numbers of expected attendees set, planning for some parts of the World Cup will remain unknown. That also means costs for hosting the global event won’t be completed until much later.

Paul said there are a number of tools available to offset some of the costs associated, including the Texas Major Events Reimbursement Program. FC Dallas will also be allowed to sell ten partnerships ahead of the event to generate additional revenue.

“We’re just right now looking to know how many matches we’re truly going to be hosting, if the International Broadcast Center will be here, how many FanFests — we are a larger region — and really try to collect a lot of the expenses so that we know what additional assets we may need or need to create to put in those packages and ensure that we’re financially solvent at the end of this World Cup,” Paul said.

More transit needed in Arlington

Getting World Cup attendees to AT&T Stadium will require working with the city of Arlington, whose residents have long pushed back against any type of conventional transit.

Arlington’s options are limited, given the city’s voters have thrice rejected attempts to use tax revenue to join a regional transit authority or create its own. The latest vote was in 2002.

Since then, the city government has looked for innovative ways — specifically cost-effective ones — to move people around the seventh-largest city in the state. Currently, the city offers a rideshare-like program through the company, Via. The service can get riders around town or to and from the CentrePort TRE station for $5 or less.

The city also has a shuttle service dedicated to older adults, Handitran. Through a Federal Transit Administration grant, the city also hosts a pilot autonomous vehicle service run by May Mobility.

The Arlington Entertainment Area Management District runs a trolley between participating hotels and destinations within the entertainment district.

While Arlington may not have its own transit system in place, the Council of Governments said it does not believe that will impede the region’s ability to move people around during the World Cup efficiently. In fact, Arlington has been supportive of transit to and from event venues during special events in the past, Bettger said.

Arlington City Manager Trey Yelverton said in an interview the city will continue looking at developing transportation options for the World Cup and beyond.

“Will (World Cup accommodations) be the thing that puts permanent type rail infrastructure in Arlington? I don't think that will be the case as I think we're going to meet the needs of the event, but we're also going to continue to innovate and grow technologies that move people but do so affordably over the long term,” Yelverton said.

Despite some obstacles yet to be overcome ahead of the World Cup, the organizations involved in getting the metroplex ready are confident they will get the proper transportation in place in time before welcoming fans.

“The World Cup is special and the passion and the culture that comes along with it. … This is going to be a different type of visitor and one that is very passionate about their soccer — or football,” Paul said.

Editor’s note: This story was updated Aug. 28 to clarify the average stay of a World Cup visitor.

Sandra Sadek is a Report for America corps member, covering growth for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at sandra.sadek@fortworthreport.org or on Twitter at@ssadek19.

Got a tip? Email Kailey Broussard at kbroussard@kera.org. You can follow Kailey on Twitter @KaileyBroussard.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you

This article first appeared on Fort Worth Report and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Kailey Broussard covers Arlington for KERA News and The Arlington Report. Broussard has covered Arlington since 2020 and began at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram before joining the station in 2021.