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By 2050, Utah is expected to nearly double its population — adding 2.5 million people to its current 2.9 million, with two-thirds coming from "natural growth" through its high birth rate and a third from immigration.

A new study by the Utah Foundation predicts the booming growth, and a separate panel discussion Thursday by the League of Women Voters addressed planning needed to handle it.

"That means we need to generate over a million new jobs and provide better housing and transportation — and that is a big challenge," Alan Matheson, planning coordinator and environmental adviser to Gov. Gary Herbert, said at the discussion.

The foundation's study projects that Utah will not only double its population in 2050, but it will be more diverse and increasingly urban — with especially large population booms coming to areas around the fringe of the Wasatch Front where more open land is available.

For example in Utah County, it foresees Eagle Mountain skyrocketing from 21,415 residents now to 114,400, and Saratoga Springs going from 17,781 to 107,900 — with many small cities there facing similar booms.

It projects Utah County growing overall by 700,000 people, or more even than the 630,000 new people expected in Salt Lake County by 2050.

And several counties neighboring the Wasatch Front are expected to more than double in population: Wasatch County by 225 percent; Tooele by 171 percent; Summit by 143 percent; Juab by 128 percent; Morgan by 115 percent; and Cache by 106 percent.

The big increases for Utah County and those just outside the Wasatch Front are predicted because "Salt Lake and Davis counties are nearly built out, and thus most new development will likely be farther from existing city centers," the study said.

Andrew Gruber, executive director of the Wasatch Front Regional Council, told the panel discussion, "We only have a limited amount of undeveloped land now on the Wasatch Front," and said about 300 square miles of current open land is expected to be developed to handle the new growth. So growth will spill over into neighboring counties.

Even with expansion into outer counties, Gruber said, "There is not enough room for everybody to live in large-lot, single-family homes, and there's not enough room for [new] roads to accommodate the population growth."

So cities and counties have joined in an effort, called Wasatch Choice for 2040, that seeks to cluster much of it — but not all — in high-density town centers around mass-transit stations. People could live, work and seek entertainment in a walkable community, and maybe not need cars.

Gruber said such a lifestyle would conserve water by not irrigating large lawns; reduce congestion by reducing driving; improve air quality; and even save electricity with more efficient designs.

He said if a major slice of growth occurs in those town centers, "That creates the opportunity to preserve the character of existing suburban or even rural communities."

The study also sees Utah becoming more diverse, because most growth among the young now is occurring among minorities.

"If you will go to a classroom in Salt Lake County, you will see the future for Utah," Gruber said. "There are 102 languages being spoke in homes around Utah. Salt Lake County by 2050 will have a 'majority-minority' population."

While children currently comprise the largest slice of Utah's population, the study said growth projections "suggest that in about 25 years the age structure will flip and those 60 years and older will become the largest segment of the population."

Mallory Bateman, Utah Foundation research analyst, said, "The demographic changes over the next few decades will require additional planning efforts relating to our aging communities, more diverse school population and the location and type of new development."

Matheson, the governor's planning coordinator, said Utah is up for the challenge. "Willingness to collaborate and concern for the future are going to get us through this." —

Examples of predicted growth by 2050:

Utah, from 2.9 million residents to 5.4 million, up 86%.

Utah County, from 516,564 to 1.22 million, up 136%.

Salt Lake County, from 1.03 million to 1.66 million, up 61%.

Eagle Mountain, from 21,415 to 114,000, up 434%.

Saratoga Springs, from 17,781 to 107,900, up 507%.

Counties neighboring the Wasatch Front: Wasatch, up 225%; Tooele, 171%; Summit, 143%; Juab, 128%; Morgan, 115%; Cache, 106%.

Source: The Utah Foundation.