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Road planning group OKs new urban map for Gainesville, Hall County
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A group comprising area government leaders and engineers moved Wednesday to revise a census-driven map showing “urbanized areas” in Gainesville and Hall County.

The move by the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization’s technical coordinating committee was mainly geared to “smoothing” out irregular boundaries created after 2010 census data was released and the initial 2010 map was drawn.

“The urbanized area is determined by the census — the MPO has no control over that,” said Nicole Spivey, senior transportation planner for the MPO, which serves as the area’s main transportation planning agency. “The adjusted map is something we can have say-so over.”

The U.S. Census Bureau defines an urbanized area as “core census block groups or blocks that have a population density of at least 1,000 people per square mile and surrounding census blocks that have an overall density of at least 500 people per square mile.”

The federal Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, a 27-month transportation bill passed in Congress last July, designates MPOs in urbanized areas with a population of 50,000 or more.

Hall’s overall population was nearly 180,000 in the 2010 census. The 2010 census shows the Gainesville-Hall urbanized area as having 130,846 people in a 126-square-mile area, or a density of 1,036 people per square mile.

The size of an urbanized area is key to MPOs because it is tied to federal funding. The Gainesville-Hall MPO was receiving about $300,000 per year based on the 2000 census and is now receiving $332,000 based on 2010 data.

The newly expanded map, which goes to the MPO’s decision-making policy committee for final OK on March 12, doesn’t mean extra money, however, Spivey said.

“The smoothing of an urbanized area is required because when you look at the (2010) urbanized area in its raw form ... it’s very jagged and in some cases, it may not make sense as far as the geography that it encompasses,” she said.

“The criteria for the (adjusted) urbanized area is that it must be a continuous geography — no breaks, no jumping over rivers, roads, intersections, etc.”

The revised map shows the urban population moving deeper into South and East Hall, as well as farther into northeast Forsyth County.

It contrasts sharply from the 2000 urbanized map, which showed an area just inside Hall County boundaries.

Also, Hall’s revised map shows Atlanta’s adjusted urbanized area pushing into parts of South Hall, particularly around Braselton and Buford and including much of Ga. 347/Friendship Road.