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Can Dallas-Fort Worth Transit Handle the 2026 World Cup?

The region will host nine FIFA World Cup matches, including a semifinal, two years from now. Although some are worried about the infrastructure capabilities for thousands of fans, others are confident the area will be ready.

Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to descend on Dallas-Fort Worth in 2026 for nine FIFA World Cup matches, including a semifinal.

Along with excitement about hosting the most games of any single site, there’s a fear among locals of a traffic Armageddon with airports, highways and city streets overwhelmed by visitors.

But Michael Morris isn’t alarmed.

“We have certainly been able to manage it in the past even with multiple venues being used on the same day,” said Morris, director of transportation at the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

Morris should know. He’s been the frontman in the bid to bring the World Cup to Arlington. FIFA has strict infrastructure criteria, so to even be considered for hosting an event meant having a solid transportation plan in place.

AT&T Stadium seats about 80,000 fans — 105,000 standing — but Morris expects 2-3 times as many people to visit the area during match weeks. FIFA Fan Festivals and sponsored events will draw crowds, and a large number of employees will be needed to serve guests. That requires careful planning.

“All events will be mapped out every hour of the day — just like we did with the Super Bowl,” Morris said.

Arlington does not have a mass public transit system of its own, but significant upgrades are planned for the Trinity Railway Express CentrePort Station in Fort Worth, which will offer enhanced rail service for visitors. Those include amenity and signage upgrades that are already funded, and new locomotives that officials hope will be partially funded by a federal grant.

The area around the stadium will get a facelift, with upgrades to traffic signals and message signs and a review of sidewalks and shade structures.

Sponsored charter buses will be encouraged to use the dedicated express lane on Interstate 30, which will prioritize stadium traffic on match days. More dynamic message signs will also be added on the highway.

The MLB All-Star Game headed to Globe Life Field in July is an opportunity to test-run many of the transportation elements at play for the World Cup. With the region set to host a handful of FIFA events, it means more pressure than a one-and-done game, Morris said.

“If you fail on a Super Bowl, you know the game is over, there are no more games,” Morris said. “If you don’t do well in a FIFA first game, you’ve got a problem because you may have five more games already scheduled and they’re not going to change. We can’t fail — that’s why our transportation plan has so many redundant elements to it.”

With fans coming in from around the world, airports also will face challenges. While many will arrive at DFW International Airport or Dallas Love Field, some will also park private planes at smaller airports around the region.

Officials plan to implement a reservation system to help mitigate private aircraft traffic, and commercial airports are already gearing up for the influx of travelers.

“You’ve got light rail to Love Field, you have light rail and the TEXRail line coming out of DFW Airport, and then during the event, we’re going to have very transit-centric transportation for AT&T Stadium,” Morris said.

Transit is an even bigger component because available stadium parking will be reduced by security fencing.

North Texas cities vying to host fan events will have additional transportation plans in place. With limited parking in downtown Fort Worth, for example, attendees to an event there would be encouraged to park at the Trinity Railway Express station and take the train into downtown.

For locals just trying to go about their day, Morris does not anticipate any major road hurdles but does expect that many will want to suspend their normal routines to participate in FIFA events.

“On game days, we wish to have an aggressive travel demand management program to encourage our residents to participate in FIFA, and we’ll be working with both employers and employees to be basically off the road on those particular days,” Morris said. “You’re not going to want to be going to work during these international events, not because of any problems in the transportation system but because it’s going to be so cool.”

Bottom line: This is far from the first time North Texas has been the site of a major crowd-drawing event, and officials say they are ready.

“All those things that you can think of are being worked on, but we’ve worked on them before,” Morris said. “I’m not concerned about the transportation system of 8 million people not being able to handle the flux we’re going to get.”

©2024 The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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