No Signs Of Pause In N.Va. Growth

Townhouses go up in Loudoun County's Stone Ridge area. Loudoun's population is up nearly 50 percent in five years.
Townhouses go up in Loudoun County's Stone Ridge area. Loudoun's population is up nearly 50 percent in five years. (By Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)
By Alec MacGillis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 26, 2006

As legislators grapple with Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's (D) proposals to manage development and traffic, population estimates released yesterday offered a fresh reminder of just how pressing those challenges are, particularly in Northern Virginia.

Northern Virginia has grown by nearly 14 percent, or about 293,000 people, in the past five years, according to annual estimates produced by the University of Virginia's Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service. Virginia as a whole gained more people than all but six other states, and 60 percent of the state's growth occurred in Northern Virginia, the center found.

Leading the way was Loudoun County, which the center estimates grew by a "phenomenal" 82,700, or 49 percent, in the past five years. Prince William County was close behind, with an increase of 74,500 over that period. Fairfax County, though not growing at the same rate, still added 52,400 residents since 2000.

"The trend since 2000 has been the same: The growth has been quite steady, and the major growth is in Northern Virginia," said Qian Cai, the center's director for demographics and workforce. "It will be more congested in Northern Virginia."

"We have never seen such explosive growth in such a short period," said Sean T. Connaughton (R), chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors. "We've had 15 years' worth of growth in five years."

The new estimates come as little surprise to school and government officials already deeply involved in trying to manage the consequences of the region's relentless growth. In Loudoun County, school officials are projecting a continued population climb through 2010; over the next five years, the county estimates, more than a third of the state's school enrollment increase will be in Loudoun.

In the past 15 years, the county has doubled the number of schools and more than tripled the number of students, to about 47,000 this year. Six more schools are scheduled to open for the 2007-08 school year.

Scott York, chairman of Loudoun's Board of Supervisors, cautioned that the surge in population means that county leaders need to rethink whether they want to continue on the same path.

"What it means is that our roads are going to get further clogged, we'll continue building schools, and it will mean higher taxes," he said. "That's why we need a change of attitude from board members and need to start doing more with smart-growth policies as opposed to no-developer-left-behind policies."

Longtime resident Cheryl Dicks, 47, said she thought she had escaped the crowds when she moved west to Purcellville years ago.

"People moving out from Ashburn and Sterling, they love it," she said. "Those of us who have been there forever are thinking about moving farther out."

The new estimates showed high rates of growth spreading beyond Loudoun and Prince William to Stafford and Spotsylvania counties, which each have grown by about 25,000 people since 2000.

The state's total population is estimated at 7.57 million as of July, an increase of nearly 500,000 since 2000. That rate of growth puts Virginia behind only California, Texas, Florida, Georgia, Arizona and North Carolina. The state remains the 12th largest in the country.

The Weldon Cooper Center estimates that the state's growth since 2000 was roughly divided between natural increase (more births than deaths) and migration of residents from elsewhere, with the balance tilted slightly toward the latter. In Loudoun, though, the natural increase of 18,500 was vastly exceeded by an influx of 64,200 residents.

The center, unlike the U.S. Census Bureau, cannot estimate how many new residents migrated from other countries, as opposed to from other states. The census estimated that three-quarters of the residents who moved to Fairfax from 1990 to 2000 were new immigrants.

Ann Cahill, Fairfax County's demographer, speculated that residents who have migrated to the county in more recent years might include somewhat fewer immigrants, given the sharp increase in the cost of housing. What the latest numbers showed for sure, she said, was that Fairfax is still expanding, despite the perception that the county has no room left to grow.

"Percentage-wise, [Loudoun and Prince William] look huge, but Fairfax is still sucking in a lot of people," she said.

Staff writers Nikita Stewart and Amy Gardner contributed to this report.

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