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Cars wait to turn onto Blue Lakes Blvd. from Bridgeview Blvd. on Oct. 10 in Twin Falls.

TWIN FALLS — The city still has five years before it’ll need to form a group for long-term transportation planning.

When the federal Office of Management and Budget designated Twin Falls and Jerome counties as a metropolitan area last year, city officials initially feared it would push their deadline up sooner. But after hearing from the Idaho Transportation Department, they breathed a sigh of relief.

“There were a lot of people that leapt to a lot of conclusions,” Twin Falls City Manager Travis Rothweiler said. “What we learned is the OMB bulletin is more of an internal communications piece. It appears that that original planning work is still valid.”

But it’s still only changed the when, not the what, he said.

So what is a metropolitan organization and why will Twin Falls need to create one? ITD plans to answer those questions and more at an inter-agency and public meeting Thursday. The state’s duty is to play an educational role and assist cities in the creation of a metropolitan planning organization, public involvement coordinator Adam Rush said.

What triggers it?

In August, the OMB released a bulletin stating Twin Falls and Jerome counties were a “metropolitan statistical area” — given to areas with 50,000 people or more.

“When they turned us into an MSA, it really is for statistical purposes,” Idaho Department of Labor Regional Economist Jan Roeser said.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics will begin tracking the counties’ wages and employment data differently in 2019. This means the area will now be included in reports that use only metropolitan areas.

But it doesn’t have any effect on transportation planning, said Maranda Obray, senior transportation planner for ITD. What will? The actual population — gauged by the April 2020 U.S. Census.

“Typically the data is released about two years after the deadline,” Obray said.

The 2010 Census listed Twin Falls and Kimberly together as an urban area, with less than 50,000 people but more than 5,000 people. The next Census could give the two cities (or a similar area) a new designation if they have more than 50,000 people — which is likely.

It’s that new population-based status that would fall under a federal law that requires those areas to have a metropolitan planning organization — sometimes called an MPO. If one isn’t created within a year of the data release, the cities could lose their federal road funding.

MPOs are formed by the cities, counties and agencies involved. They have their own public boards and directors, which create a long-term transportation improvement program.

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The area covered by an MPO is determined once the organization is set up, but its transportation plans won’t affect state highways, Rush said.

A helping hand

ITD receives federal funding to help Idaho cities and counties create their planning organizations, Obray said. It’s also the pass-through agency for federal money that funds the MPOs.

“We’re five years in advance of doing all this and we’re trying to calm the waters,” Transportation Planning Project Manager Sonna Lynn Fernandez said.

The first step the state has taken is to host an educational meeting in City Hall, 203 Main Ave. E., on Thursday. Registration for the meeting begins at 8 a.m., and is encouraged but not required. You can also register at eventleaf.com/MVMPOKickOff.

The inter-agency meeting between cities, counties and highway districts takes place from 9 a.m. to noon and is open to the public. However, members of the public will get an extra opportunity to ask questions during an open house from noon to 1 p.m.

More information about MPOs can be found at itd.idaho.gov/funding/?target=advisory-boards under the “MPOs” tab.

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