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Census Urbanized Areas and MPO/TMA Designation

FAQ Topic 7: Making Adjustments to UZA Boundaries and Implications for Federal Transportation Programs

What Federal transportation programs are impacted by adjustments to UZA boundaries?

The following FHWA Programs distinguish between urban and rural areas:

I thought the Urban/Rural designations were removed from the highway functional classification system. Is this true?

No. Urban/rural designations are still critical elements of highway functional classification. What you are referring to are the functional classification data codes used in the new Highway Performance Monitoring System (HPMS) which have been normalized so that they only have one meaning (i.e., they indicate the functional classification of the roadway). A separate "urban/rural" field in HPMS delineates between Urban and Rural. When these two fields are combined, urban and rural functional classifications can be derived as they were in the past. For functional classification guidance see the FHWA Functional Classification Guidebook at

Do I need to adjust the Census-designated UZA boundaries?

No. Federal transportation legislation allows adjustments to the Census-designated UZA boundaries (Adjusted UZAs); however, there is no Federal requirement to do so. States and MPOs may choose to use the Census-designated UZA boundaries without adjustment.

Adjustments to UZA boundaries had significant funding implications when Federal-Aid highway funding included separate apportionments for Federal-Aid Urban and Federal-Aid Rural Systems. These funding classifications were eliminated in 1992 under the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA).

Currently, the Federal requirements for urban versus rural classifications are limited mostly to highway statistical reporting, highway functional classification, and regulation of outdoor advertising. These requirements are described above. However, a number of States have included urban versus rural classifications in their intra-State apportionment formulae. These State requirements should be reviewed before deciding whether or not to adjust the Census-defined UZA boundaries.

Can I adjust UZA boundaries to include less area than the Census-designated boundaries?

No. Federal transportation legislation specifically requires that any adjustments to UZA boundaries must include, at a minimum the entire UZA designated by the Census Bureau.

Does the MPA need to contain the entire adjusted UZA?

No. The MPA must contain the Census Bureau-defined UZA, not the adjusted UZA. However, Federal law requires that the entire UZA be included within the MPA as well as the contiguous area expected to be urbanized in the next 20 years (23 CFR 450.312.). Therefore, it is most likely that the MPA would need to include the entire adjusted UZA.

How often can I make adjustments to UZA boundaries?

Although there is no specific FHWA policy on how often UZA boundaries can be adjusted, States are strongly encouraged to make such adjustments as infrequently as possible and only when deemed absolutely necessary. Maps showing proposed adjustments to UZA boundaries must be submitted to FHWA for approval accompanied by approval letters from the MPO(s) and Governor(s) (or Governor's designee).

Please talk to your FHWA Division Planner to determine the best method for submitting the revised boundary map. Some Divisions can accept a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) .shp file, but others may require a paper map or .pdf file.

What is the process for preparing and submitting adjusted UZA boundaries?

The determination of adjusted UZA boundaries is a State and local decision that should be made cooperatively between local MPO representatives, the State(s) Governor(s) (or Governor's designee) and any adjacent MPOs. All boundary adjustments must be approved by the Governor(s) (or Governor's designee) and FHWA Division Office(s), and are subject to the approval of the Secretary of Transportation (23 USC 101(a)(36) -(37) and 49 USC 5302(a)(16) - (17)). The adjusted UZA boundaries must include the entire UZA boundary identified in the 2010 decennial Census.

Note: Please keep in mind that not all FHWA Division Offices have GIS capabilities; in some instances the State may be required to print hard-copy maps for the Division to review/approve. We stress that the approved (either signed or e-signed) boundaries files and maps must be retained and retrievable as part of the State's and FHWA's system file, until the next adjustment update.

After the boundaries are approved, the State DOT(s) or the FHWA Division Office(s) should provide the boundary files electronically to the FHWA Office of Planning (HEPP-30) for inclusion into the FHWA Office of Planning Executive Geographic Information System (HEPGIS) database. The preferred submission formats are ArcGIS or TransCAD GIS file formats - the GIS software packages most commonly used by State DOTs and MPOs. E-mail or File Transfer Protocol (FTP) submissions are strongly encouraged. Submitting a CD or DVD via United States Postal Service (USPS) mail is also acceptable. Please contact Supin Yoder ( for detailed mailing and FTP submission instructions.

Where can I find our current adjusted UZA boundary?

Adjusted UZA boundaries should be on file with your FHWA Division Office(s). FHWA Headquarters has not previously collected these in a digital format; therefore, HEPGIS does not currently include the current adjusted UZA boundary.

What impacts do adjustments in UZA boundaries have on Highway Performance Monitoring System (HPMS) reporting?

Adjusted UZA boundaries adopted by the State and MPOs should be used for Highway Performance Monitoring System (HPMS) reporting at the earliest time possible (within 2 to 3 years maximum) after the adoption decision.

Any changes to the rural/urban roadway location and functional class that result from adjustments to UZA boundaries should be reported in HPMS Data Items 1 (Functional System Code) and 2 (Rural/Urban Designation) respectively.

The size of urban area is determined based on the latest decennial Census (or special inter-decennial census) designation, not on the population within the Adjusted UZA. Please refer to the HPMS Field Manual, page 4-16 for guidance on reporting Urbanized Area codes for HPMS Data Items 1 and 2.

Please refer to the HPMS Frequently Asked Questions , or contact Joe Hausman, FHWA Office of Highway Policy Information ( for further information on HPMS reporting.

What impacts do adjustments in UZA boundaries have on Highway Functional Classification?

Once the adjustments to UZA boundaries are adopted, highways that are impacted by the new boundaries must be functionally reclassified. The guide on classifying highways is Highway Functional Classification: Concepts, Criteria and Procedures. Rev. August 2013.

Because the anticipated adjustments resulting from the 2010 Census are relatively minor (unlike the national reclassification required in the 1990's by ISTEA), FHWA is not planning any workshops or training in this area. It is the responsibility of the FHWA Division Offices to approve any changes in the classification of highways. If a State does propose major changes to their principal arterial system, those changes should be submitted to FHWA's Office of Planning for further review prior to Division action.

For further information on Highway Functional Classification, contact: Spencer Stevens, FHWA Office of Planning (

What impacts do adjustments in urban area boundaries have on Outdoor Advertising Control?

States will continue to use the Census Incorporated Place data to map and control signage as it relates to places of 5,000 or more in population, in the manner defined by 23 CFR 750.153(t) and 750.703(m). For further information concerning outdoor advertising control, contact Mary Jane Daluge, FHWA Office of Real Estate Services (

How will the 2010 UZAs and UCs impact other data reporting?

There could be impacts on other data reporting like FHWA's Fiscal Management Information System (FMIS) and National Bridge Inventory (NBI). Please direct your questions to Dale Gray, FHWA Office of Financial Management ( and Ann Shemaka, FHWA Office of Bridge Technology (, respectively.

Updated: 1/31/2017
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