Urban designation changes could cost Eastern Shore


DAPHNE – A proposal to change how urban areas are designated could cost Eastern Shore communities funding and influence, local officials objecting to the plan said.

The plan being considered by the U.S. Census Bureau would increase the population a region needs to be considered an urban area. An area now needs a population of 50,000, Sarah Hart Sislak, coordinator of the Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planning Organization, told Daphne City Council members.

Following the 2010 Census, a portion of Baldwin County including the Eastern Shore and Loxley was designated an urban area. Under the proposed changes, the Eastern Shore might not fit the new designations, she said.

The Daphne City Council voted unanimously April 5 to approve a resolution opposing the change.

Spanish Fort will discuss the proposal at its April 19 meeting, Mayor Mike McMillan said.

“This bill would reduce an MPO from 50,000, where it is currently, to allow us to form an MPO on the Eastern Shore and raise it to 100,000 which would take us out of the criteria needed to have a population base to have an MPO,” McMillan said at a City Council work session April 5.

He said that before the Eastern Shore reached the population needed to have its own MPO, the area fell under the Mobile planning jurisdiction.

“In the past, before we had an MPO, we went through the Mobile MPO and I don't think they were particularly warm and fuzzy about the Eastern Shore getting their share of the money,” McMillan said.

McMillan, a member of the MPO Policy Board, said the Eastern Shore MPO was the organization that stopped plans for tolls on the Bayway and proposed Mobile River bridge in 2019.

“There are some advantages to local rule,” he said.

Sislak said in a presentation to the Daphne City Council that having its own MPO makes the Eastern Shore eligible for federal funding for road and bridge projects that it might not receive without that designation.

The MPO receives $1.4 million a year to pay for surface projects as well as funding for planning and transit, she said.

The Eastern Shore MPO was created in 2012, following the 2010 Census. The organization includes Spanish Fort, Daphne, Fairhope, Loxley and nearby unincorporated areas. Policy Board members include the mayors of the four municipalities, the two county commissioners representing the unincorporated areas and a representative from the Alabama Department of Transportation.

Under the proposal for new metropolitan designations, urban clusters, or population centers, would have to have a population of at least 10,000. That population requirement is now 2,500. Sislak said the change could eliminate Loxley from the MPO area.

MPO area can now reach across less populated areas between urban clusters. The distance between less populated areas would be reduced from 2.5 miles to 1.5 miles under the new change, which could also affect Baldwin County, Sislak said.

She said the Census Bureau is taking comments on the proposed changes until May 19. Any changes would be announced later in 2021 and go into effect in the spring or summer of 2022.