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Urban Area Boundaries for Census

From: Shepherd, Gloria
Sent: Friday, April 23, 2004 2:34 PM
Cc: ##ALLDFS; Burbank, Cindy; HEPODs; HEPRCTeams; Solury, Tony; HEPP
Subject: INFORMATION: Urban Area Boundaries for Census

TO THE ATTENTION OF: Divisions' Planning Staff

The purpose of this memorandum is to clarify FHWA's position on the use of Census Places for defining the boundaries of small urban areas (a small urban area is a geographic area having a population between 5,000 and 50,000 that is located outside the boundaries of any urbanized area).

In a previous memorandum, dated October 2, 2002, and jointly signed by Jill L. Hochman and Gloria M. Shepherd, FHWA gave States the option of using either Census Urban Clusters or Census Places to define small urban areas provided that: (1) any adjustments to the small urban area boundaries must include the entire area of the Place or Urban Cluster as defined by the Census Bureau, and (2) whatever option is chosen should be applied consistently throughout the State. (A copy of this memorandum is included as Attachment 1.)

Subsequent to that memorandum, we have learned that a number of Census Places include large areas of land that have little or no population and are clearly rural in character. Requiring the entire area of these Census Places to be defined as urban may severely distort certain "urban versus rural" highway statistics within a State. Consequently, as described below, we are amending our previous guidance to allow specific exemptions from the requirement that the adjusted small urban area boundary must include the entire Census Place.

Attachment 2 lists a total of 47 Census Places that are eligible for this exemption. Similar exemptions were provided following the 1990 decennial Census, based on "Extended City" criteria established by the Census Bureau. However, with the designation of Census Urban Clusters in the 2000 decennial Census, the Census Bureau essentially eliminated the concept of "Extended City." The Census Places listed in Attachment 2 were selected based on an average population density of less than 200 persons per square mile.

For each of the listed Places, States may use the included Census Urban Cluster instead of the Census Place as the core area for defining that small urban area. Nine of the listed Census Places contain no Census Urban Cluster. Those areas may be defined as rural. These exemptions apply only in those States that have chosen to use Census Places for defining their small urban areas. States that have selected Census Urban Clusters are to continue to use Urban Clusters consistently throughout the State.

Please review the attached list to identify those Places, if any, in your State that may be eligible for exemption, and forward this information to the appropriate State officials, as necessary. Any questions regarding this memorandum or about urban boundaries in general should be directed to Dr. Bruce Spear, Office of Planning, (202) 366-8870 or

Attachment 1
Attachment 2

Updated: 5/10/2012
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