Skip to content U.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway AdministrationU.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway Administration
Office of Planning, Environment, & Realty (HEP)

Rapidly Urbanizing/Overview

Overview And Purpose

The purpose of this research is to identify examples of innovative transportation planning practices by states and metropolitan planning organizations to include rural communities near rapidly growing urbanized areas or small towns that are expected to become urbanized by the next U. S. Census (Census). The goal is to identify methods to strengthen the involvement and contribution of key rural stakeholders in the metropolitan planning process.

Transportation planning in metropolitan areas is a collaborative process, led by the metropolitan planning organization (MPO) and other key stakeholders in the regional transportation system. Transportation planning activities include visioning, forecasting population/employment, identifying major growth corridors, projecting future land use, assessing needs, developing capital and operating strategies to move people and goods, and developing a financial plan. The required planning processes are designed to foster involvement by all interested parties, such as the business community, community groups, environmental organizations, and the general public, through a proactive public participation process.

Public participation must include people who have been traditionally underserved by the transportation system and services in the region. Stakeholders in rural areas that are rapidly urbanizing are not always involved in these metropolitan planning processes. Neglecting rural stakeholders in public involvement can result in a transportation system that does not address the long-term needs of the region and can result in delays in the funding and implementation of capital and operating strategies to improve regional mobility and can erode public trust.

Part of every state's required transportation planning process is a long range metropolitan transportation plan (MTP) for each population center of 50,000 or more, approved by that region's metropolitan planning organization (MPO). The metropolitan planning area should include, as a minimum, the urbanized area and the contiguous geographic areas that are likely to become urbanized within the 20-year forecast period covered by the long range transportation plan. Often this planning does not include rural areas in the previous decennial Census that will become urbanized within the following 10 to 20 years. In addition, the required metropolitan transportation planning process is often not introduced to communities that are growing rapidly until well after the Census indicates a new urbanized area (population 50,000 or more).

Results of Census 2000 provided evidence of a gap in the planning process for rural communities near rapidly growing urbanized areas and new urban centers. The metropolitan transportation plan (MTP) or regional transportation plan (RTP) for long range planning is expected to include areas to be urbanized within next 20 years. This required multimodal planning process too often does not happen. Key rural stakeholders are left out of the process and are not prepared for the change in status and funding eligibility for urbanized areas. A specific example is Fort Bend County, Texas which is already partially urbanized according to Census 2000 or will be urbanized by 2010. Until recently, stakeholders in Fort Bend County were not actively involved in the metropolitan transportation planning process and struggled to establish eligibility for funding for public transportation programs.

Rural communities that reach a population greater than 50,000 are now responsible for planning processes specific to urbanized areas. A new urbanized area is no longer eligible for rural transportation funding but most public officials in the new urban area are not familiar with the planning processes and have not prepared necessary transportation plans for urbanized area funding. Two specific examples include Avondale, Arizona, and Lake Jackson, Texas. Both communities were designated as new urbanized areas after Census 2000 but neither community had prepared in advance for the new responsibilities for metropolitan transportation planning and funding.

There is a demonstrated need to extend the long range planning process to include areas that are predicted to become urbanized by 2010. The purpose of this research to identify, through a peer research process, novel and low cost tools and approaches for improving metropolitan transportation planning.

The case studies are:

Background Materials:

Updated: 3/7/2012
HEP Home Planning Environment Real Estate
Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000