Urban Areas for the 2020 Census

Census geographers will discuss and explain the most significant proposed changes as suggested in the Federal Register notice of February 19, 2021.

Comments to the proposed changes close on May 20, 2021.

Here is a link to the federal register notice.

Date
Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Speakers
Jennifer Murray, AICP, Wisconsin DOT
Jennifer Zanoni, U.S. Census Bureau
Michael Commons, U.S. Census Bureau
Joe Hausman, U.S. Federal Highway Administration

Full Webinar Recording

Here is a link for the full webinar recording.

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Participant Questions and Answers

U.S. Census Bureau and Federal Highway Administration Questions/Responses

Q. The 2010 density criteria was 500 persons/square mile, while the proposed 2020 criteria of 385 Housing Units corresponds roughly to 1000 persons per square mile. Am I understanding that correctly, and if so what is the reasoning behind this doubling of the qualifying density?

A. There were two population density thresholds in 2000 and 2010: 1,000 persons per square mile (ppsm) for the intial core and then 500 ppsm for the remainder of the area. The minimum population density threshold was 1,000 ppsm from 1960 through 1990. The lower threshold of 500 ppsm was adopted in 2000 because the automated delineation process could not recognize blocks in which the population density was lower due to the presence of non-residential urban land uses (such blocks were interactively combined with adjacent blocks in 1990 and an overall average density computed). The use of impervious surface data to identify non-residential urban land uses has offset the need for a lower density threshold; likewise, criteria allowing for the inclusion of lower density blocks surrounded by higher density blocks (such criteria have always been part of the delineation process) also accounts for lower density areas that are part of the urban landscape. The overall effect of lowering the minimum density in 2000 and 2010 was to extend urban areas out into lower density, exurban areas. A density of 500 ppsm translates to approximately 1 person per acre.

Q. The proposed 385 housing units per square mile in essence allows housing with over a acre of land to qualify as an urban area? Does this really meet the common perception of urban—- shouldn’t a threshold that requires a density of one housing unit per a less than acre land area better reflect an urban area?

A. This is a good point and one that ties into the need for a broader discussion about movement away from an urban-rural dichotomy and toward identification of a variety of categories along an urban to rural continuum that better reflect settlement patterns. The proposed 385 housing units per square mile is consistent with the 1,000 persons per square mile threshold that was used in previous decades, from 1960 through 2010.

Q. The 385 housing units multiplied by the 2.2. average household size yields only 846 persons per square mile. Why wasn’t a threshold of 454 housing units, which would much closer approximate 1000 persons per square mile proposed?

A. As we state in the proposed criteria, the 2019 American Community Survey 1-year data indicated a national average of 2.6 persons per household. We used that value in selecting our proposed density. Further, the proposed density of 385 housing units per square mile is consistent with the housing density threshold suggested by urban geographer, Brian J.L. Berry, in his report, “Capturing Evolving Realities: Statistical Areas for the American Future,” as part of the Metropolitan Concepts and Statistics Project, and included in “Metropolitan and Nonmetropolitan Areas: New Approaches to Geographical Definition,” Population Division Working Paer 12, US Bureau of the Census, September 1995.

Q. Have you considered that the 2.6 people per dwelling unit estimate for population could undercount population in areas where it is common for extended families to live together (immigrant and other lower sociocultural population areas)?

A. We considered this issue, looking specifically at urban areas in which the average number of people per household is higher than the national average. What we found was that in those areas, the housing densities were above 385 units per square mile, so the shift from population density to housing unit density would have little or no impact. What was impacted was the total number of housing units in the area relative to the total population. As a result of this analysis, we decided to propose that an area would qualify as urban based on either 4,000 housing units or 10,000 people.

Q. Isn’t using housing units rather than actual population discriminatory against areas that have a higher population per housing unit figure than the average being used?

A. We considered this issue, looking specifically at urban areas in which the average number of people per household is higher than the national average. What we found was that in those areas, the housing densities were above 385 units per square mile, so the shift from population density to housing unit density would have little or no impact. What was impacted was the total number of housing units in the area relative to the total population. As a result of this analysis, we decided to propose that an area would qualify as urban based on either 4,000 housing units or 10,000 people. Keep in mind, though, that areas with less than 2.6 people per housing unit may have the same characteristics with regard to the built environment as an area with more than 2.6 people per housing unit.

Q. How will residential areas under development be treated? If it is obvious that a new subdivision is going in will they be rolled into the urbanized area or is it a snapshot of occupied and vacant households on Census Day April 1, 2020?

A. Delineation is based on the number of housing units (occupied and vacant) in the 2020 Census data. This is no different than when we delineated urban areas based on decennial census data in the past. This does, however, provide a good reason to update urban area definitions between censuses as developments that were partially completed at the time of the census build out and as new development occurs over the course of the decade.

Q. Will you be testing an urban area that has a very high persons per household size? It seems that using housing units would not accurately capture the population in these urban areas.

A. We researched the impact of the proposed housing unit criteria in areas with high persons per household size. The housing unit densities in areas that previously qualified based on population density tend to be well above the proposed threshold of 385 housing units per square mile. To help visualize the proposed density threshold, 385 housing units per square mile is equivalent to 1.6 acres per house.

Q. How are you handling group housing – dormitories, senior facilities. Are they weighed in any way to account for density impacts? One acre with 4 houses treated different than one acre with 100 apartments?

A. We plan to include blocks containing dormitories, nursing homes, and other types of group quarters when adjacent to other qualifying blocks. We are researching whether we should also apply a minimum group quarters population applied so as to avoid including large land area, predominantly rural blocks because they happen to include a group quarter, such as an assisted living facility, with a small population. Apartments and condos are considered housing units, so an acre with 100 apartments will have a higher housing unit density than an acre with four single family detached houses.

Q. Can you define housing units?

A. A house, an apartment, a mobile home or trailer, a group of rooms, or a single room occupied as separate living quarters, or if vacant, intended for occupancy as separate living quarters. Separate living quarters are those in which the occupants live separately from any other individuals in the building and which have direct access from outside the building or through a common hall. For vacant units, the criteria of separateness and direct access are applied to the intended occupants whenever possible. See the Census Bureau’s Glossary at https://www.census.gov/glossary/

Q. How are areas with high numbers of motor home parks treated?

A. Mobile homes and trailers are considered housing units and will be factored into the calculation of housing unit density in the same way as other types of housing. Empty trailer pads are not considered housing units.

Q. In our state, we have cities where numerous dwelling units were built to accommodate oil workers. Large numbers of those dwelling units are now unoccupied. How will using dwelling units instead of population account for this or maybe the question is really how could this lead to inaccurate designations?

A. These types of dwelling units/living quarters will be included in the calculation of housing unit density. The conceptual question is whether they are (or were) part of a landscape that is urban.

Q. Will the new emphasis on housing units inadvertently also promote urban sprawl?

A. The Census Bureau measures the extent of urbanization. Decisions by officials, planners, and others at all levels of government regarding whether, where, and how much development occurs leads to urban sprawl.

Q. Can you elaborate on the impervious surface layer usage?

A. The use of data measuring impervious surfaces is a proxy measure for land uses that are part of the urban landscape, but not captured by either residential population density (in the past) or housing unit density (as proposed for 2020).

Q. Will you be using the 2016 impervious layer or wait until 2021 to use the latest version of impervious data for the 2020 urban boundaries?

A. We will use the most current data available when we begin delineation of urban areas late summer 2021.

Q. The 2019 NLCD is due out soon, will that be replacing the 2016 NLCD in the impervious criteria?

A. We will use the most current data available when we begin delineation of urban areas late summer 2021.

Q. New pavement technology enables permeable pavements. How will this be incorporated into your use of impervious areas?

A. Impervious surface data is a proxy measure for nonresidential urban land uses. If there is a nationally consistent dataset containing a permeable pavement layer, we will consider using it.

Q. How will adjustments be made based on work from home vs. office locations that have ensued as a result of COVID and may linger far after COVID has been resolved?

A. The LEHD data used in the large agglomeration splitting process are based on administrative data that indicate a workers’ residence and the location of the establishment for which they work. They do not reflect whether or how often the worker worked from home.

Q. If telecommuting becomes a part of the new normal after COVID-19, then how would percentage of commuter between urban blocks be useful in determining whether to be included in an urban area?

A. The LEHD data used in the large agglomeration splitting process are based on administrative data that indicate a workers’ residence and the location of the establishment for which they work. They do not reflect whether or how often the worker worked from home. Increased telecommuting will only become an issue if the administrative data used by the LEHD Program change to list a worker’s residence as their worksite. If that happens (and we would assume a similar shift would occur in the ACS worker flow data), then the entire notion of commuting as a proxy measure for other social and economic interactions will have to change and we will have to look for other measures by which to determine when and where large agglomerations should be split. Or, decide not to split them, in which case urban areas merge together.

Q. Will COVID disruptions in commuting and work-at-home be accounted for in making agglomeration decisions?

A. The LEHD data used in the large agglomeration splitting process are based on administrative data that indicate a workers’ residence and the location of the establishment for which they work. They do not reflect whether or how often the worker worked from home.

Q. Do you use the version of LEHD data from before noise is added to it for the public?

A. Consistent with other aspects of the urban area delineation process, we will use the same data that are available to the public. The urban area delineation process does not use any data that are internal to the Census Bureau.

Q. Is federal employment now included in the most recent LEHD datasets (2017-2018 I think)? Upon initial release, federal employment was not included in those years.

A. Yes.

Q. Will the “3 most recent available LEHD years” include 2020 (which inarguably is an outlier year)?

A. Yes.

Q. The LEHD data set measures employment/residence relationships, but in many communities the majority of the population is not in the workforce. Shouldn’t this population also be considered in defining urban/rural areas?

A. The primary process for defining urban areas relies upon measures of density– housing unit density as proposed for 2020; population density from 1960-2010; housing unit density in 1950. LEHD worker flow data will only be used when determining whether to split large agglomerations and, if so, where to draw the boundary. Commuting is a proxy for other kinds of social and economic interactions; if there are nationally consistent data that measure other kinds of social and economic interactions, we would be interested in considering their use.

Q. Regarding the LEHD data, how will a dramatic increase in unemployment impact this data source?

A. Obviously, if large numbers of people are unemployed, then they won’t appear in administrative data sources reporting numbers of workers and their workplace locations. We will be using three years’ worth of LEHD data, which should smooth over any dramatic, recent increases in unemployment.

Q. With LEHD data availability differing by state, will this be a problem with UAs that cross state boundaries?

A. No. We will use three years’ worth of LEHD data. All states will be represented in the data.

Q. Are there maps available comparing how the 2010 UAs would look like using the old vs proposed definitions?

A. Yes. See the 2020 Proposed Urban Area Criteria Viewer at https://mtgis-portal.geo.census.gov/arcgis/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=94c61c34e2674a229fda427342e0367a

Q. Do you have any guidance for comparing new and previous urban areas?

A. “The Census Bureau has posted maps for four areas comparing application of the 2020 proposed criteria with 2010 Census data and geography to the areas defined based on 2010 criteria. See https://mtgis-portal.geo.census.gov/arcgis/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=94c61c34e2674a229fda427342e0367a

Beyond these examples, we suggest applying your knowledge of settlement and development patterns in relation to the proposed criteria and the 2010 delineation. We would like to assume that planners and others studying and making decisions about development in urban and rural areas have deep knowledge of existing development, settlement intensity, and plans for future development and would be able to translate the proposed criteria to conditions as they exist on the ground.”

Q. Hearing that you are testing the software with 2010 data, will you be sharing how the 2010 urban areas would have changed with the proposed criteria?

A. Yes. See the 2020 Proposed Urban Area Criteria Viewer at https://mtgis-portal.geo.census.gov/arcgis/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=94c61c34e2674a229fda427342e0367a

Q. What areas are the test areas being used?

A. Visalia, CA and vicinity; Wichita, KS and vicinity; Knoxville, TN and vicinity; Atlanta, GA and vicinity are the four test areas included in our viewer. See the 2020 Proposed Urban Area Criteria Viewer at https://mtgis-portal.geo.census.gov/arcgis/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=94c61c34e2674a229fda427342e0367a

Q. Curious as to why there is not a formal comment docket for this Federal Register Notice. Is there a way for us to see other comments that have been made?

A. This was not planned by Census Bureau staff; we did not have input into whether there would be a formal comment docket. We will summarize and respond to all comments in the Federal Register notice conveying the final criteria.

Q. How can we make substantial comments about these proposed changes without seeing the 2020 census data?

A. “The Census Bureau has posted maps for four areas comparing application of the 2020 proposed criteria with 2010 Census data and geography to the areas defined based on 2010 criteria. See https://mtgis-portal.geo.census.gov/arcgis/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=94c61c34e2674a229fda427342e0367a

Beyond these examples, we suggest applying your knowledge of settlement and development patterns in relation to the proposed criteria and the 2010 delineation. We would like to assume that planners and others studying and making decisions about development in urban and rural areas have deep knowledge of existing development, settlement intensity, and plans for future development and would be able to translate the proposed criteria to conditions as they exist on the ground.”

Q. Can the CB provide specific examples where they think the previous criteria caused over-bounding? It just seems a little problematic to change policy that causes a probable contraction versus the other way around when nothing on the ground has actually changed.

A. The Visalia, CA area provides a good example. Likewise, comparing the Atlanta area based on 2020 criteria with the area defined in 2010, one can see many areas in which the urbanized area extended to include lower density development. See our Proposed Urban Area Criteria Viewer at https://mtgis-portal.geo.census.gov/arcgis/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=94c61c34e2674a229fda427342e0367a

Q. In 2010 you used tracts as analysis units in the initial phase of delineation. Will you do the same in 2020, or will you use blocks?

A. Based on comments received from planners and others regarding over bounding of urban areas due to the use of census tracts (especially where tracts contained a mix of urban and rural land uses), we decided to propose only the use of blocks for 2020.

Q. Is there any discussion about expanding the definition of unbuildable to include areas that are not water/wetlands? In the southwest we have areas that are unbuildable that don’t meet the current definition.

A. We are not proposing a change in our conceptualization of “undevelopable” or “unbuildable.” In many ways, this comes down to differences in planning and zoning decisions and regulations and the difference between territory that cannot physically support development and areas that have been excluded from development due to other, often local or regional, preferences. Because we apply a single set of objective criteria to all areas of the US, Puerto Rico, and the Island Areas in order to facilitate comparability, we are reluctant to adopt region-specific criteria.

Q. Considering the Washington DC/Baltimore example: the 50% threshold is not met from the DC side, but (hypothetically) if 50% of Baltimore workers and residents are commuting, would that trigger a joining of urban areas?

A. Hypothetically, yes. If over 50% of the workers in the Baltimore urbanized area began commuting to work in the Washington DC urbanized area (or vice versa), then the two areas would merge. But, in reality, this is unlikely to happen. It is important to note that the area in northern Prince George’s County that, in the example, would shift to the Washington urban area based on commuting was part of the Washington urbanized area (along with adjacent areas in southern Howard County) prior to 2000. This area (the Laurel, MD area) is a great example of how changes in the merger/splitting criteria over the past 20 years have shifted territory from one urbanized area to another even though there’s been little change in actual social and economic relationships.

Q. If a separate, non-contiguous urbanized area experiences 50% of their local workforce commuting to another urbanized area, are they at risk of being combined?

A. The commuting data are applied only to decide whether to split large agglomerations of continuous urban development and, if so, where. If two areas are not contiguous, there is no need to apply the splitting criteria.

Q. Is it possible smaller 2010 UAs could get merged with larger adjacent UAs?

A. Yes, if the commuting data show that there is sufficient interaction between the two areas that they should be considered a single urban area.

Q. So, to clarify, portions of urban areas could move from one urban area to a neighboring urban area based on the new “split” criteria” areas? Like in the DC-Baltimore example.

A. Yes.

Q. What is considered a “Large Agglomeration”?

A. “Large agglomeration” refers to areas of continuous urban development that encompass two or more previously separate urbanized areas. These areas result from the automated delineation process.

Q. If the housing unit density needs to be at least 385 housing units per sq. mile, how is the 4,000 housing units being measured? Is this by Census Blocks?

A. The number of housing units within all blocks included in a delineated area will be tallied to determine if there are 4,000 or more within the entire area. This is no different than past practice when areas were delineated based on population density and then qualified based on total population within the delineated area.

Q. Any analysis on the smaller urban areas? (e.g. there is little difference between 49k and 50k; however, 5k and 40k is vastly different.)

A. We did not conduct similar analysis at the lower end of the scale. The Census Bureau’s minimum population threshold of 2,500 has been in use since 1910 and is the lowest among the various thresholds used by federal agencies. Our proposal to increase to 4,000 housing units or 10,000 people is meant to bring the Census Bureau’s definition of urban into greater alignment with that of other federal agencies.

Q. OMB proposed changing MSAs from 50k to 100k minimum – would that have any affect on UAs minimum of 50k?

A. There is no relationship between OMB’s proposed change to the minimum core size for a metropolitan statistical area and the Census Bureau’s delineation of urban areas.

Q. Seeing similar characteristics between areas with nearly identical population should not be surprising. To the point about the similarities between urban areas with 49,000 and 50,000 in population, couldn’t the same point be illustrated in urban areas with 99,000 population and 100,000? Did Census staff also look at urban areas with populations around 100,000 to see if they had similar characteristics, as was done with urban areas over/under 50,000 in population?

A. Yes, the same point can be made about areas with populations between 99,000 and 100,000. Census Bureau Urban Area Delineation Program staff did not look at areas around the 100,000 person threshold because that threshold has never factored in our designation of urbanized areas and other, smaller urban areas, and is not in question within the proposed criteria for 2020. We assume this question really applies to the Office of Management and Budget’s proposed change to metropolitan statistical areas. That is a different program and beyond the scope of the proposed criteria for defining urban areas.

Q. ….so has the Census Bureau looked at areas that have 9,999 people vs. 10.000 people (or 3,999 units vs. 4,000 units) to justify that those above the threshold are “urban” and those below are not?

A. We did not conduct similar analysis at the lower end of the scale. The Census Bureau’s minimum population threshold of 2,500 has been in use since 1910 and is the lowest among the various thresholds used by federal agencies. Our proposal to increase to 4,000 housing units or 10,000 people is meant to bring the Census Bureau’s definition of urban into greater alignment with that of other federal agencies.

Q. Many fed funding programs (not just FHWA) depend on the UA delineation. With implementation of changed UAs under this proposal coming next year, it looks like there will be an immediate negative impact on funding eligibility for newly reduced to non-UA status areas. Is that an accurate understanding of the relationship between the UA process & other funding programs that depend on UA?

A. There are a wide variety of programs across the federal government that use the Census Bureau’s classifications. In some instances, such as designation of rural health clinics, an area dropping below the 50,000-person threshold may be seen as a positive outcome. Many programs focused on rural development, rural housing, and rural health define “rural” as outside of an urbanized area.

Q. Using housing units might allow for urban delineation annually, but do you anticipate identifying new urban areas annually?

A. Although the use of housing unit density creates the potential for updating urban areas more frequently than every 10 years, the Census Bureau has not specified any plans to do so. We are interested in receiving comments regarding the frequency of update.

Q. Are jumps only allowed along a single roadway, or can you turn a corner and connect two blocks via two separate (but connected) roadways?

A. Yes, a jump can turn a corner. The criteria state that only one jump is allowed along a specific “road connection;” that connection, however, can include multiple roads.

Q. Are jumps based on driving distance between blocks, or is it “as the crow flies?”

A. Jump distance is measured in road miles from the edge of one block to the edge of the other.

Q. If I have a TMA in my state that is two urban areas connected by a long thin area along an interstate, with the new way of designating urban areas and no longer having longer jumps, will this mean my TMA will no longer be classified as such?

A. If the two areas were connected via a jump of greater than 1.5 miles in 2010, and there has not been additional development along that road corridor since 2010, then based on the proposal to reduce the jump distance, yes, the result would be two separate urban areas.

Q. Census 2020 occurred during stay at home orders – this significantly affects college towns. How can this be addressed?

A. For information on the quality of the 2020 Census, see https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2021/quality-indicators-on-2020-census.html

Q. When will the final 2020 census numbers be published publicly?

A. US and state population totals were released on April 26, 2021. Redistricting data will be released in September 2021.

Q. Would you still be reporting population and housing for cities, towns and municipalities based on their defined boundaries?

A. Yes, of course.

Q. Since the 2020 Census ended nearly a month early, will there be any continuation counts done in 2021 to make up for this shortfall?

A. No. For more information about 2020 Census quality, see https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2021/quality-indicators-on-2020-census.html

Q. How does this integrate with the Metropolitan vs Micropolitan Statistical Area proposal form the Office of Management and Budgets?

A. The Office of Management and Budget uses urban areas defined by the Census Bureau as the cores of metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas. Apart from that, there is no relationship between OMB’s proposal and the Census Bureau’s.

Q. Will this process have any impact on the annual BAS?

A. No. There is no relationship between the Boundary and Annexation Survey and urban area delineation.

Q. Will the census software be publicly available?

A. We are looking into the possibility of sharing our urban area delineation software.

Q. Does the census bureau consider the differences between the definition of urban when it comes to frontier states? Where what is considered urban in rural states is very different than urban in a more populated state. In rural states, a current urban area supports rural communities from very far away.

A. No. We apply the same criteria nationwide in order to achieve an objective baseline definition suitable for comparative analysis. We recognize that there may be regional variations in what is considered urban– both from a structural standpoint representing the built environment and from a functional standpoint representing the social and economic relationships between differently sized communities and settlement patterns. A broader discussion is needed about how to effectively define and classify the variety of types of urban and rural communities and landscapes and the socio-economic interactions that occur between communities at various points along the urban-rural continuum.

Q. Do you consider county boundaries?

A. No. Urban areas have always been able to cross county boundaries.

Q. Do you consider municipal boundaries?

A. No. The Census Bureau ceased taking municipal boundaries into consideration in the delineation process starting with the 2000 criteria.

Q. The concept of non-contiguous areas being part of a single urban area seems a bit odd – how does an overall boundary line for the urban area work for this?

A. The original, 1950 Census delineation of urban areas allowed for noncontiguous areas, identified in exactly the same way as we have proposed for 2020. It only seems odd because the geographic community has tended to insist upon contiguity when delineating geographic areas. When you think about urbanization, though, this is exactly how it plays out across the landscape. Noncontiguous urban and suburban development is the basis for the concept of “leapfrog” development in the urban sprawl literature.

Q. 50,000 is the determining factor for Metropolitan Planning Organizations, you indicate there is no difference between 10,000-50,000 are you going to add 10,000 to 50,000 as an MPO or follow OMB’s move to 100,000 as Urban area for MPOs. If neither you are going to have 3 different definition as Urban area 10,000, 50,000 and 100,000.

A. There is no reason why FHWA would need to change its focus on 50,000 as the threshold for MPO status in response to either the Census Bureau’s proposal to cease distinguishing between urbanized areas and urban clusters or OMB’s proposal to increase the size of the urban core for a metropolitan statistical area from 50,000 to 100,000. Precedent exists for use of different population thresholds for identifying what is urban or rural for various federal programs.

Q. Are we at risk for losing MPOs as a result of this change?

A. If by “losing MPOs” you mean areas might drop below 50,000 people as a result of the proposed criteria, then yes. But, American Community Survey estimates for urbanized areas suggest that some might drop below 50,000 even if the criteria remain unchanged. The Census Bureau does not designate MPOs, so ultimately, this is a decision for FHWA.

Q. Based on the proposed changes, is it anticipated that more new MPOs would be designated?

A. The Census Bureau does not designate MPOs. It is likely that there will be new areas that surpass the 50,000 person threshold. This has happened every decade since 1950 and is a reflection of the way in which the US population and population distribution is changing.

Q. Does FHWA plan to raise the threshold above 50k for an MPO?

A. No, FHWA does not have that authority, only Congress can change Statute that defines MPO and TMA thresholds.

Q. What happens to an MPO if the UZA population fell below 50,000 in the 2020 Census?

A. FHWA and FTA are working with their legal departments to answer this. Historically these were retained.

Q. If an MPO falls below the 50k MPO threshold but the state maintains their MPO designation, will they be eligible for PL funding through FHWA?

A. FHWA and FTA are working with their legal departments to answer this. Historically, yes.

Q. By using housing units and having access to updated data annually, is it anticipated that new MPOs would be designated more frequently than every 10 years?

A. Although the use of housing unit density creates the potential for updating urban areas more frequently than every 10 years, the Census Bureau has not specified any plans to do so. As for changes in the frequency of designating MPOs, FHWA would make that decision. FHWA will review Urban Areas as they are released by the Census. See the timeline of activities for the 2020 Census.

Q. If a UA grows above 50,000 population, but the UA is already within an MPO or TMA boundary, would a new MPO still be designated?

A. NO, any new standalone Urban Areas above 50k in population will be designated, If an Urban Area within an existing MPO Planning Boundary grows above 50K, it meets the requirement of being covered by an MPO.  No change is necessary.

Q. So, did I hear correctly that FHWA will not go through an urbanized area boundary smoothing” process? Some Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organizations extend the boundary out to include a whole county. That will not be allowed now?

A. Urban Area boundary adjustment is still allowed via Statute 23 U.S.C 101(a)(33) and (34). The FHWA Census Urban Area Boundary Adjustment Process applies to the Urban Areas that are produced by the Census Bureau through an automated process, since the Census Bureau doesn’t generally consider transportation facilities or future growth areas near the boundary. Most often, the boundary adjustment process produces a slightly larger adjusted Urban Area than the original Census Urban Area. The MPO Planning Boundary should contain the Adjusted Urban Area Boundary, but is based on the 20-year planned growth of the area. Please see the FHWAs Highway Functional Classification Concepts, Criteria and Procedures2013 Edition, Chapter 6: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/planning/processes/statewide/related/highway_functional_classifications/

Q. Which definition of Urban Area is FHWA going to use? 50,000 is the determining factor for Metropolitan Planning Organizations, Census says there is no difference between 10,000-50,000 is FHWA going to add 10,000 to 50,000 as an MPO, follow OMB’s move to 100,000 as Urban area for MPOs, or stick with 50,000? If FHWA stay with 50,000 there is going to be 3 different definition as Urban area 10,000, 50,000 and 100,000.

A. The Census Bureau’s analysis noted little or no difference between areas of 49,000 to 50,000 and those between 50,000 and 51,000. This was limited to the decision to cease using the terms “urbanized area” and “urban cluster” and instead simply refer to all areas as “urban areas.”

Q. In what federal fiscal year do you foresee the Census 2020 data actually first impacting federal apportionments from FHWA/FTA?

A. Once we designate the new MPOs and TMAs, their population numbers are used in the next year’s apportionment calculations. See our estimated schedule.

Q. Will the proportion of STBG funds split between Rural and Urban be revised to account for the likelihood of more population/places now classified as Rural?

A. Only Congress can change the funding definitions, eligibility and fund splits.

Q. With a Fall of 2022 release of TMA designations; what fiscal year starts the direct allocation of STBG and TA start for a new TMA?

A. If we designate TMAs in 2022, those populations and designations will be used in Federal Fiscal Year 2023 allocations (same as the MPO example above).

Q. The change to population threshold that might affect small urban clusters could affect STBG set-aside eligibility. Has FHWA looked at how this will need addressed through policy and/or FAST Act reauthorization?

A. FHWA is currently looking at this, but won’t have any definitive answers until when and if the Census Bureau changes are adopted.

Q. Any desire to update functional classification to include the new Green Book contexts of suburban, rural town, etc.?

A. No, the FHWAs Highway Functional Classification Concepts, Criteria and Procedures guidebook will be considered for update if the proposed changes from the Census Bureau are adopted, this will include the new threshold for Urban Areas and volume data used in determining a specific functional classification of a roadway.

Q. What is the schedule for determining which UZAs are to be covered by the second TPM 4-year performance period? Will the modified UAs delineated under the Census’s 2020 urban criteria impact this? Or when would be the first time that the new 2020 Census UAs impact the areas that need to comply with the TPM requirements (specifically for the CMAQ congestion measures)?

A. FHWA plans to post the determination results in October 2021 for the TPM 4-year performance period (by regulation). The State submitted HPMS Urban Code Data Item drives the FHWA determination and State implementation of CMAQ Traffic measures. The Adjusted Urban Areas will be reflected in TPM as States adjust and submit (HPMS is due April 15th and June 15th annually) them via the HPMS Urban Code Data Item.