Hall has Lake Lanier, pastures and mountain views.
But it also has a rapidly growing urban population, defined by the federal government as a “densely settled core,” stretching from Gainesville south to Gwinnett County.
The Gainesville “urbanized area,'' taking in South Hall County and parts of Forsyth and West Jackson counties, has grown from 130,846 people in 123 square miles in the 2010 census to 265,218 in 252 square miles in 2020.
Gainesville’s urban population is now fourth highest in the state, behind Atlanta, Augusta and Savannah. Based on the 2020 census, it has surpassed Columbus, Macon and Warner Robins in population, according to the U.S. census.
Georgia’s urban areas
How they rank according to the U.S. Census Bureau:
Warner Robins: 141,132
Atlanta’s urbanized area includes crowded cities such as Alpharetta, Roswell, Marietta, Lawrenceville and Decatur.
In defining an urbanized area, the U.S. Census Bureau says that “urban areas represent densely developed territory, and encompass residential, commercial and other non-residential urban land uses.”
Also noteworthy is that Gainesville’s numbers don’t take into account North Hall and East Hall, which aren’t considered part of any urbanized area. Overall, Hall County’s population estimate as of July 2021 was 207,369, according to the U.S. census.
Official urbanized boundary maps haven’t been released yet. The initial map shows Gainesville’s area enveloping much of Lake Lanier, spanning from Buford to Braselton and including parts of interstates 985 and 85.
The area’s urban population surge above 200,000 may result in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s reclassification of the local agency that governs transportation planning from a metropolitan planning organization to a transportation management area.
The existing Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization now governs transportation planning in Hall and part of West Jackson. More people has meant more cars, and thus the need for a Regional Transportation Plan with road projects plotted through 2050.
The transition to a transportation management area doesn’t mean Forsyth County would necessarily join Hall and Jackson in regional planning, said Jared Lombard of the Federal Highway Administration, speaking at an MPO meeting last week.
“That’s still to be determined,” he said.
Forsyth County is part of the Atlanta Regional Commission.
In moving to a transportation management area, there could be impacts in funding from Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Administration. Also, responsibilities could change, including development of a “Housing Coordination Plan” to “engage with housing providers to better link housing with transportation.”
Many impact details aren’t known yet.
“We know we’ll have to do more in regards to congestion, and we do expect there to be some funding increases, but we are unsure of amounts and actual direct impacts at this time,” said Joseph Boyd, transportation planning director with the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization.
“We are the first MPO in Georgia to go through this process in 20 years, so it will be a learning experience for everyone involved,” he said. “We hope to have more concrete answers later this year.”