TWIN FALLS — Twin Falls may have to start planning for a public bus system a little earlier than it thought.
Early this week, the City Council and staff met with state legislators and discussed the 50,000 population threshold that would require Twin Falls and surrounding areas to take a serious look at connectivity and public transportation. At the time, City Manager Travis Rothweiler believed the 2020 Census would trigger that requirement after data had been validated by 2022.
But on Tuesday, Rothweiler received a surprise email from the Idaho Department of Labor’s regional economist Jan Roeser. The email contained an August bulletin from the Office of Management and Budget, delineating Twin Falls city, county and Jerome County as a “metropolitan statistical area,” or MSA. The region was the only new urbanized area identified in the bulletin. Roeser came across the bulletin while doing research into MSAs after reading about them in the Times-News.
This new status will mandate an entire level of requirements — some yet unknown — years sooner than anyone expected.
“We did not have any notification or awareness,” Rothweiler said. “We’re disappointed that our level of notification results in because of one of our partners, who doesn’t have connection to it, is reading the newspaper.
“We were always working under the now-erroneous assumption that we would have until the 2022 timeframe,” he said. “Now that it’s 2019, that really kind of accelerates our timeline.”
The designation was based on 2015 population estimates. It impacts not only Twin Falls city, but the entirety of the counties as well, triggering the creation of a Metropolitan Planning Organization, Rothweiler said.
“Really a Metropolitan Planning Organization is a regional planning effort to create greater connectivity and planning between all the affected areas. And there’s specific rules and responsibilities that will be delineated by the group.”
The city will start that conversation with Twin Falls and Jerome counties soon, he said. Rothweiler planned to meet with Jerome County representatives on Thursday.
The designation could also trigger new stormwater management requirements.
“We do know that communities above 50,000 have to do stormwater phase two,” he said. “How that’s tied to an MPO designation, I’m not entirely certain.”
City Engineer Jackie Fields previously told the Times-News that when cities reach a population of 50,000, they are required to get a permit for stormwater discharge into the Snake River.
“We thought we were being very forward-thinking,” Rothweiler said. “I think we were all a bit surprised. … We had a plan, we were moving that plan forward, and the playing conditions changed. So we need to modify our game plan so we are able to comply with those requirements.”
A member of the city staff will need to soon begin examining Twin Falls’ service levels and how becoming a metropolitan area changes those levels.
Twin Falls and Jerome county commissioners also said they hadn’t known of the designation. Twin Falls County Commissioner Terry Kramer said the county will be working with the city to find out what it means. Commissioner Don Hall will be the liaison, Kramer said.
Jerome County Commissioner Roger Morley approached the news with enthusiasm about the potential impacts.
“Transportation is getting to be a bigger deal all the time over here,” he said. “The world is getting really little with immediate communication. Transportation is one way to lock us all together.”
A Times-News call to the Office of Management and Budget was not returned Thursday.
According to the bulletin, a Metropolitan Statistical Area must “have at least one urbanized area of 50,000 or more population, plus adjacent territory that has a high degree of social and economic integration with the core as measured by commuting ties.”
According to the Census Bureau’s 2016 estimate, the city of Twin Falls had a population of 48,260.