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Rapidly Urbanizing/Dalton Whitfield MPO, Georgia

The metropolitan planning organization (MPO) for a newly urbanized area is not always created as a new and independent entity. In Whitfield County, Georgia, local policy makers leveraged the strengths of an existing regional planning agency to serve as MPO for the new Dalton urbanized area as of Census 2000.

Whitfield County is situated to serve as the geographic link between Atlanta, Georgia (90 miles south) and Chattanooga, Tennessee (25 miles north). Interstate Highway 75 (I-75) runs through Whitfield County and creates one of the busiest north-south corridors in the country for movement of people and goods. In the decade from 1990 to 2000, the four municipalities in Whitfield County grew rapidly including Dalton (the county seat and known as the "Carpet Capital of the World") Tunnel Hill, Cohutta, and Varnell.

By the 2000 Census, the population for the City of Dalton was 57,666 and was classified as part of an urbanized area. Urbanized Dalton encompasses areas outside the city limits in Whitfield County, including Tunnel Hill and developments east of I-75 and along Cleveland Highway (See Figure 4.). The population for the Dalton metropolitan statistical area was 120,031 in 2000.


The governor of Georgia designated the North Georgia Regional Development Center (NGRDC) as the MPO for Dalton and Whitfield County in May 2002. The NGRDC is an organization of local governments which is governed by the board of directors composed of city and county elected officials, appointed officials, and non-public representatives. The board maintains a staff of professionals and technicians to carry out programs and activities according to its policies, to perform contracted services, and to manage NGRDC resources. NGRDC was established in 1970 to provide a forum to address issues and opportunities of common regional interest. Programs and activities include economic development, regional planning, regional data systems, project development and, as of 2002, the responsibilities of MPO for the Dalton Whitfield MPO.

As part of NGRDC, the Dalton Whitfield MPO was able to more forward quickly to adapt the planning processes for a formerly rural area to the new requirements for an urbanized area. The Dalton Whitfield MPO was successful in expanding an existing transportation study to create the required long range metropolitan transportation plan. The process for that update included the involvement of a broad range of stakeholders. The ability to focus on expanding rather than creating new planning tools also made it possible for the Dalton Whitfield MPO to develop a travel demand model as a top priority for the new MPO. The region and the MPO continue to look forward and have now initiated a bi-state planning process to acknowledge and address the expected growth of the Dalton urbanized area toward Chattanooga in the adjacent state (See Figure 5).

The Dalton Whitfield County MPO and the neighboring Chattanooga-Hamilton County (Tennessee)/North Georgia Transportation Planning Organization recognize the importance of coordinating transportation planning beyond their respective borders to address the transportation patterns for commuting and goods movements in the region. The first step to developing a bi-state transportation strategy was facilitated with the help of the University of Georgia's Carl Vinson Institute of Government (Vinson Institute).

The Vinson Institute provides a public service and outreach program. The mission of Vinson Institute is to improve governance and the lives of people through a program of instruction, technical assistance, research, and policy analysis. The Vinson Institute brings a neutral university-based third party approach to facilitation and coordination. The Bi-State Metropolitan Regions Initiative is being staffed by planners with the Vinson Institute and is focusing on seven Georgia metropolitan urban areas and their surrounding communities. A series of facilitated meetings between the transportation and community planners from North Georgia and the Chattanooga area are designed to help coordinate transportation improvements throughout the region.


The NGRDC provided a strong foundation of regional planning and data resources for the new MPO. However, in order to meet the requirements of the metropolitan planning process, NGRDC established several MPO committees, including:


One of the first tasks for the new MPO was to prepare a long range transportation plan consistent with the metropolitan planning process. The basis for the new long range transportation plan was the Whitfield County/City of Dalton Multimodal Transportation Study. The study was jointly sponsored by the Georgia Department of Transportation in partnership with Whitfield County and the City of Dalton. The two-phased study addressed all of the modes of transportation including highways, airport, bike and pedestrian facilities, railroads, and transit. In the first phase, the study identified existing deficiencies and projected transportation needs through the year 2025, based upon the future land use plan. A prioritized list of transportation improvements was identified to address deficiencies. The recommendations of the first phase were carried forward and expanded in the second phase to develop the region's first long range metropolitan transportation plan.

For the development of the long range plan, two major enhancements to the multimodal transportation study were incorporated. First, the development of the plan incorporated the use of a stakeholder committee to guide the long range transportation planning process. The Policy Committee believed a Special Study Committee was needed to provide a more detailed review and analysis of issues, needs, and alternatives related to the elements of a long range transportation plan (LRTP).

The 2030 LRTP Special Study Committee was created by the MPO Policy Committee to serve as an ad hoc committee to assist MPO staff and consultants on elements of the Dalton/Whitfield County Long Range Transportation Plan for 2030. Members of the Special Committee were selected from the Technical Coordinating Committee for their technical knowledge, skills, and insights associated with transportation planning, operations, and processes, and for their responsibilities in the development of the current transportation system and improvements.


A second major enhancement to the multimodal transportation study was the development of regional travel demand model using the most current data available for population, employment, school enrollment, land use, and traffic volumes. The model was developed in cooperation with the Georgia DOT using a transportation consulting firm. The travel demand model was developed using 2003 as the base year for existing travel patterns within the highway system and socio-economic setting. The model is used to forecast future year traffic patterns, identify system deficiencies, and evaluate transportation improvement alternatives.

The major features of the Dalton Whitfield MPO travel demand model include:

Table: Dalton Whitfield MPO Summary

Planning Area Notable Practice
  • An existing regional planning agency was tapped to serve as MPO for the new urbanized area.
  • Two MPOs are working together with the help of a third party facilitator to coordinate (bi-state) regional transportation planning.
  • The new MPO updated the most recent county/city transportation study to develop the first long range metropolitan transportation plan.
  • Local stakeholders were asked to serve on a special study committee to provide a detailed review and analysis of issues, needs, and alternatives related to the long range transportation plan.
  • The new MPO developed a regional travel demand model with the most current transportation and socio-economic information as the baseline.


Barry L. Tarter, Executive Director, North Georgia Regional Development Center (NGRDC),
Larry Vanden Bosch, Director, Community & Economic Development Services, NGRDC, 706-272-2300,
Bill Allen, Transportation Planning Coordinator, Dalton Whitfield MPO, 706-272-2300,


North Georgia Regional Development Center,
Dalton Whitfield MPO
Carl Vinson Institute of Government:
Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency
Chattanooga-Hamilton/North Georgia Transportation Planning Organization

Updated: 10/20/2015
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