The World Cup decision shows the persistence of long-term regional shortcomings

Local football fans received disappointing news last week. Word has arrived that Baltimore’s bid to host the World Cup matches in 2026 – an attempt supposedly boosted in April by merging with a rival bid by Washington, DC – has failed. Instead, FIFA, the international governing body that organizes World Cup matches, kept a short list of East Coast host cities Philadelphia, New York/New Jersey, Boston and Miami.

I was not surprised by this result. Fits the style. Twenty years ago, through my work with the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, as a junior player, I participated in a similar joint effort between Washington and Baltimore to secure the 2012 Summer Olympics for this region. After a four-year effort, involving thousands of man-hours and costing nearly $10 million, the show was lost to New York and San Francisco as the potential entry for the United States. (The 2012 games were eventually awarded to London.)

Transportation problems

Perhaps the decisive reason was not that the two-decade-old Olympics proposal did not work, but the limitations of the transportation system in the region were cited in 2002. Questions about our transportation system were raised again in 2018 in the early stages of the bidding world.

Local officials say these concerns have been addressed, but it is difficult to know how, over the past four years, this has been done in any meaningful way. Obviously, with the possible exception of Miami, all of the regions on the shortlist have a more robust regional transportation infrastructure.

In 2000, Michael Welbone, sports journalist and TV personality, who then wrote as a columnist for The Washington Post, had these notes about the prospects for hosting the 2012 Washington/Baltimore Olympics:

But you know what’s not easy, what’s the real obstacle to a DC Baltimore show? Transportation. trains. Not the buses, boys and girls, the trains that go everywhere all the time and on time, every few minutes. Trains from DC to Baltimore, trains from swimming at George Mason to basketball at MCI, for example. No cars, Americans – trains… that take you everywhere at any moment.”

missed opportunities

The Baltimore area has gone through many occasions when it may have developed a robust public transportation system – including trains. Time and time again, the political leadership faltered. In 1968, a proposal by the Regional Planning Board included a six-legged regional rail system. This concept laid the foundation for the first step of this system, which, beginning in 1973, became the metro line running from Owings Mills in Northwest Baltimore County to Johns Hopkins Hospital in East Baltimore.

Plans to extend the system to the auxiliary lines were stalled—then abandoned—in the face of opposition from officials and elected residents of the suburbs.

The prospect of a new baseball stadium opening in downtown Baltimore and the enthusiasm of newly elected “Do It Now” Governor William Donald Schaefer led to the addition of the North-South light rail line in 1992. While doing so successfully brought crowds to Orioles Park at Camden Yards on game days The hastily conceived and designed line, snaking up and down Howard Street along with cars, trucks and buses, was ironically known by some as the “White Snail Line.”

August 2002 brought the possibility of reset with the publication of the Baltimore Regional Rail System Plan. This document, prepared by the Blue Ribbon Commission, called for the development of a comprehensive regional rail system, adding 66 miles of road to the 43 miles of metro and light rail already in operation. Priority was given to an East-West heavy rail line running from the Social Security complex in the west to Dundalk in the east.

Set on the red line, this extension of the existing system became the subject of countless community meetings, banners, and forums, eventually leading to design concepts and engineering drawings—and a commitment of $900 million in federal funds.

Then, after a process that spanned more than twelve years and spent millions of dollars in planning and engineering studies, the plug was pulled.

Another newly elected governor with differing views on public transportation has shut down work on the red line. Governor Larry Hogan, in connection with the “boondoggle” project, then reallocated federal dollars to building highways in other parts of Maryland.

Oddly enough, in the final months of his administration, Governor Hogan’s Maryland Transit Department embarked on a new study of the east-west corridor. As part of the legally enforced Central Maryland Regional Transit Scheme, the public is invited to evaluate seven alternative proposals with slightly different routes, end points, and patterns (for example, heavy rail, light rail, and rapid transit buses).

Will this study lead to meaningful progress, or another opportunity to kick the ball down 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 Urbaninfo@comcast.net

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