World Cup decision shows long-standing regional shortcomings remain

Local football fans received some disappointing news last week. News had arrived that Baltimore’s bid to host World Cup matches in 2026 — a bid that was supposed to be bolstered in April by a merger with a competing bid from Washington, DC — had failed. FIFA, the international governing body that organizes World Cup competitions, had instead retained on its shortlist of East Coast host cities Philadelphia, New York/New Jersey, Boston and Miami.

I was not surprised by this result. It matches a pattern. Twenty years ago, I was involved through my work with the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, as a small player, in a similar joint Washington/Baltimore effort to secure the 2012 Summer Olympics for that region. After a four-year effort, involving thousands of man-hours and costing nearly $10 million, the bid lost out to New York and San Francisco as a potential US entry. (The 2012 games were eventually awarded to London).

Transportation issues

It may not have been the defining reason for the failure of the two-decade-old Olympic proposal, but the limitations of the region’s transport system were cited in 2002. And questions about our transport system arose. asked again in 2018 at the start of the World Cup. offer.

Local officials say those concerns have been addressed, but it’s unclear how, in the past four years, this has been done in any meaningful way. Obviously, with the possible exception of Miami, all of the shortlisted regions have much more robust regional transportation infrastructure.

In 2000, Michael Wilbon, sports journalist and television personality, then a columnist for the Washington Post, made these observations about Washington/Baltimore’s prospects for hosting the 2012 Olympics:

“But you know what’s not easy, what’s the real barrier to DC-Baltimore’s bid? Transportation. The trains. Not the buses, the boys and the girls, the trains that go everywhere all the time and on time, every few minutes. Trains from DC to Baltimore, trains from swimming to George Mason to, say, basketball to MCI. No cars, the Americans — trains… that take you anywhere in the blink of an eye.

Missed opportunities

The Baltimore area has had several opportunities where it could have developed a robust public transit system, including trains. And, time and time again, political leadership has faltered. In 1968, a proposal put forward by the Regional Planning Board included a six-stage regional rail system. This concept laid the foundation for the first stage of this system, which from 1973 became the subway line from Owings Mills in northwest Baltimore County to Johns Hopkins Hospital in East Baltimore .

Plans to expand the system to additional lines stalled – then were shelved – in the face of opposition from elected officials and suburban residents.

The prospect of a new baseball stadium opening in downtown Baltimore and the enthusiasm of new “Do it Now” Governor William Donald Schaefer led to the addition of the North-South Light Rail Line in 1992. Although successful in drawing crowds to Orioles Park at Camden Yards on match days, the hastily conceived and designed line, as it ran up and down Howard Street with cars, trucks and buses, was derisively known by some as the “White Snail Line”.

August 2002 brought the possibility of a reset with the release of the Baltimore Regional Rail System Plan. This document, prepared by a blue ribbon committee, called for the development of a comprehensive regional rail system, adding 66 miles of road to the already operational 43 miles of subway and light rail. Priority was given to a heavy east-west rail line running from the Social Security complex in the west to Dundalk in the east.

Codenamed Red Line, this extension of the existing system was the subject of countless community meetings, charrettes and forums, ultimately leading to design concepts and technical drawings – and a commitment of $900 million in federal funds.

And then, after a process that had spanned a dozen years and spent millions of dollars in planning and engineering studies, the plug was pulled.

Another newly elected governor with different views on transit has shut down work on the Red Line. Governor Larry Hogan, deeming the project a “waste,” then reallocated federal dollars to building highways in other parts of Maryland.

Curiously, in the final months of his administration, Governor Hogan’s Maryland Transit Administration embarked on a new study of the East-West Corridor. As part of the law-mandated Central Maryland Regional Transportation Plan, the public is invited to evaluate seven alternative proposals with slightly different routes, terminals, and modes (e.g., heavy rail, light rail, rapid bus) .

Will this study lead to meaningful progress or another chance to get the ball rolling on the road?

Joe Nathanson is the retired director of Urban Information Associates, a Baltimore-based economic and community development consulting firm. He can be contacted at [email protected]