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Knoxville Regional
Transportation Planning Organization

400 Main St, Suite 403
Knoxville, TN 37902

email: contact@planeasttn.org
phone: (865) 215-2500
fax: (865) 215-2068

Expected Population Gains Prompt Long-Term Regional Planning


Posted 08/29/2012

Recent projections show the PlanET area growing to over 1 million people by 2040. Are we ready?


In nautical terms “steady as she goes” means to keep a ship on course through ever changing conditions like crosswinds and currents. It’s also a good way to describe growth that the Plan East Tennessee region has seen over the past three decades. Even when faced with cycles of decline and prosperity that have challenged the economy to provide jobs and homes for everyone, the region notched steady gains in population year after year.

Between 1980 and 2010, population in the PlanET area grew from 505,000 to over 700,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The rate of growth throughout that time has been very steady, holding at a 1.4 percent average increase each year.

With new projections expecting growth to continue at the same pace, the region’s population will reach over a million residents in the next 30 years. That equates to about 300,000 new people, the same number currently living in all of the cities in the region combined, including Knoxville, Maryville, Alcoa and Oak Ridge. In Knox County alone, nearly 189,000 new residents are expected, more than the City of Knoxville’s current population.

Understanding the Potential Impact

A central aim of the PlanET project is to understand how future population gains will affect quality of life in East Tennessee. Looking at past growth helps planners prepare for the future, an in the last 30 years, the region has seen:

  • suburban, single-family homes separated from jobs and shopping
  • limited redevelopment in favor of expansion into farmlands
  • a nearly singular focus on automobiles for getting around
Looking to the future, planners are asking some “what ifs.” What if housing for 300,000 new people over the next 30 years was added to the region in the same suburban development patterns seen in the previous 30 years? What if expected job growth, estimated at 200,000 new jobs, occurs in places separated from where workers live?

These types of questions comprise a planning tool called a “trend scenario,” where expected growth impacts are measured in terms of tax revenues, spending on new roads, schools and utility lines, traffic congestion, air quality and lost farmland. The trend scenario depicts the future of the region if a “business as usual” approach to growth occurs.

Development of a trend scenario for the PlanET region is underway. Preliminary results show the area constructing 110,000 new homes on 150 square miles of previously undeveloped vacant land and farmland. A complete computer-simulated look at expected growth outcomes based on past development trends will be up and running soon.

More information about the trend scenario will be available in a few weeks. And from there, local citizens will be asked to start thinking about possible growth alternatives and the vision for East Tennessee’s future. Stay tuned.

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