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Plan envisions crowded West Side

The Puget Sound Regional Council says residents can expect a few more neighbors. In fact, many more – a number equal to the entire population of the Portland metropolitan area.

The council’s newly released planning document, Vision 2040, projects an additional 1.7 million people will live in King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish counties in 33 years. That’s a staggering number, especially if you are looking for a parking spot near the Pike Place Market.

It also suggests some unable to cope with the density and the traffic might look for another city, one that offers urban amenities and a little more elbow room, perhaps a community within earshot of a waterfall.

“It’s an awful lot of darned people,” says Randy Barcus, the Avista Corp. economist responsible for anticipating the Spokane utility’s future electricity and natural gas demand. “The character of the Puget Sound area in 30 years is going to be tremendously different.”

Surely, but Puget Sound council Government Affairs Director Rick Olson says Vision’s distant time horizon – Washington’s Growth Management Act requires only 20 years – is intended to minimize the trauma that kind of growth can inflict.

“We actually can show that we’ve achieved some focus,” he says, thanks to an earlier version. And the pace of anticipated growth, if not the magnitude of the numbers, tracks with recent trends.

“It’s not a surprise, but it’s a lot,” Olson says.

Vision would intensify development of the region’s existing urban areas. King County alone would absorb 724,000, with Seattle’s share taking the city to a population of 1 million, from about 600,000.

“There’s a debate going on,” Olson concedes. “Will people actually decide to live in that sort of place?”

Bellevue, Everett and Tacoma would also grow disproportionately. As much as possible, Vision would minimize incursions into the remaining rural areas.

Olson says that aspect of the plan will likely draw fire from property rights supporters, but ongoing development has brought more and more people around to the idea that sprawl should be contained.

The plan is also probably among the first to take climate change into account. Olson says the inclusion reflects the region’s sensitivity to environmental issues, as well as the expectation the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may begin to look at limits on carbon dioxide emissions, a major contributor to global warming.

Despite, or in sync with, the priority given to environmental issues is the attention also paid economic development, specifically accommodations for aerospace, logistics and international trade, life sciences, and clean technology. Business considerations were a secondary concern of earlier plans, Olson says.

Vision projects the region will add 1.2 million jobs.

The public will get its first chance to comment on the plan Wednesday at Seattle Center. So far, he says, Vision has not attracted much attention.

Too bad. A packed house might simulate the kind of population densities Vision forecasts and get more residents and businesses thinking about their options.

Greater Spokane Incorporated has shifted recruitment efforts to the Puget Sound area, and Vision indicates why that strategy may be a good one.

Barcus says the Inland Northwest could endure much higher population growth than the historic 1 percent a year without a significant change of character. That observation may twist some sensibilities, justifiably among those who despair at the sprawl wiping out open space, but it is a relatively accurate one looking back, say, 20 years.

But if the Puget Sound residents question the vision of Vision, at least it coordinates the work of dozens of agencies in that region. In Spokane County, officials cannot even agree on the population that should be planned for and the effect that will have on redrawing urban boundaries.

We could use more Vision-ary leaders.