Consultant: Recession could slow future growth

MANATEE — The recent economic slump could affect what the Manatee/Sarasota region’s transportation system looks like in a quarter-century, an Orlando consultant told officials Monday.

The region’s population likely won’t grow as much or in the same manner as pre-recession forecasts, which could impact what transportation projects will be needed by the year 2035, Whit Blanton told the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization.

“Things have changed,” said Blanton, vice president of Renaissance Planning Group. “Now we are seeing a much more conservative forecast for population and employment growth.”

The MPO, which sets transportation priorities in the two-county area, hired Renaissance to update its long-range transportation plan. The plan will outline what improvements will be needed to accommodate projected growth in the next 25 years.

The current plan, adopted in 2005, projected the two counties would have 295,000 more people by the year 2030. For the updated plan, the estimate is 298,000 more people by the year 2035 — a slower rate of growth.

Manatee County now is projected to have more than 448,000 people, and Sarasota County more than 551,000 people, in the year 2035. Most of Manatee’s growth still is forecast to be in the Lakewood Ranch and Parrish areas.

But a post-recession focus on urban redevelopment and mass transit could result in higher-than-anticipated growth in Bradenton and western Manatee, Blanton said.

The county’s efforts to boost business and jobs at Port Manatee also could have some influence on where future county residents settle, he said. The two-county region is expected to add more than 131,000 jobs by 2035.

Some MPO members questioned the latest population growth projections, especially given the severity of the recent economic crunch.

“How do we know this is right?” asked Jon Thaxton, a Sarasota County commissioner.

Blanton said there is really no way to tell, noting that forecasting population growth “is part art and part science.”

The MPO is expected to consider adopting a final long-range plan in November.

Duane Marsteller, transportation/growth and development reporter, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2630.