Atlantic Cities

A Tug-of-War Between Bus and Rail in a Brazilian World Cup City

A Tug-of-War Between Bus and Rail in a Brazilian World Cup City
Reuters

In less than two years, cities across Brazil are expecting millions of visitors from all over the world for the 2014 World Cup soccer tournament. In one host city, how all those visitors will get around is a large (and thus far, stubbornly unanswerable) question. The city of Cuiabá in the Midwestern state of Mato Grosso has been engaged in a years-long tug-of-war over whether it should accommodate the crowds with a bus rapid transit system or a light rail system.

A recent ruling from a federal court could have made a final decision. As the Associated Press reports, the courts have ruled against the light rail plan, arguing that the system simply can't be built in time for the tournament.

The roughly $600 million rail plan would have created a 22-kilometer system with 33 stations connecting Cuiabá to the neighboring city of Várzea Grande. If the court ruling holds, Cuiabá will fall back on its original idea of building a bus rapid transit system, estimated to cost about $241 million. The project would be part of the roughly $5.89 billion Brazil is spending on mobility projects in the 12 cities hosting the World Cup.

The bus-versus-train debate has been raging in Cuiabá since 2008, when local development officials decided BRT was the best choice for meeting the needs of the World Cup and those of the two cities in the long term. Despite pushback from rail supporters, the central government ruled back in 2011 that the bus system was indeed the best option for the city, news some locals took pretty hard. In an effort to change the government's mind, between 500 and 1,500 people reportedly filed into one of the main corridors planned for use to protest the decision. In August 2011, the central government reversed course and instead approved plans for light rail.

The government issued a tender for the $613 million project in January of this year. But numerous delays in awarding the tender as recently as May caused concerns about whether the light rail project could even be built in time for the event. The narrowing window of time would leave just 24 months for the entire system to be built. The first World Cup game in the city is scheduled for June 13, 2014. That leaves just 22 months for Cuiabá to get its bus rapid transit system on the ground. Unless they change their mind.

Top image: General view of the construction site of the Arena Pantanal stadium in Cuiaba. Paulo Whitaker/Reuters

Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for The Atlantic Cities. He lives in Los Angeles. All posts »

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