Yael T. Abouhalkah

Yael T. Abouhalkah: Think Johnson County is crowded now? Wait until it hits 1 million people

A seismic shift is happening in Johnson County as it marches toward an estimated population of 1.1 million people by 2064.

Out with the young people. And in with the grandmas and grandpas.

According to fascinating new population estimates, the percentage of children under 18 in Johnson County will plummet from 25 percent today to just 16 percent in 2064. That’s a sharp change from previous decades, when many parents moved to the county and created high-achieving K-12 schools.

Meanwhile, the percentage of county residents who are 65 or older will soar from 13 percent now to 27 percent in 50 years.

These and other tidbits stand out in detailed figures supplied for all 105 Kansas counties by the Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University. The center projected populations by age and sex, starting with the U.S. Census estimates of 2014, through 2064.

My favorite eye-popper is that leap in Johnson County’s population from 574,000 in 2014 to past 1 million people.

Get ready for many more acres of green fields to be covered with residential housing and shopping centers.

And imagine the rush-hour backups on Interstate 435, despite all the hype about the current $600 million Johnson County Gateway project.

One positive side for county residents: They will have more political power to influence important state laws in Topeka.

Meanwhile, rural Kansas will continue to wither as 85 counties lose lots of people. That will further slice into their viability as good places to live and raise children.

These statistics are fun to review. They also make it clear that Johnson County’s business, civic and political leaders must plan carefully today to meet the needs of tomorrow’s flood of new residents (plus the many old-timers who will stick around).

▪ The Johnson County Commission correctly is using public funds to invest in first-class amenities.

After years of dithering, the members last year approved a slight property tax increase so they could build more and better parks and libraries to serve future generations.

This year the county is closer than ever to asking taxpayers to approve funding to construct a needed modern courthouse in Olathe.

▪ Taxpayers in Johnson County will build new schools to serve new students — but old facilities likely will be drained of school-age children.

For example, the center estimates that the number of kids under 18 years old in the county goes up only 2,000 through 2029 — even while the county adds more than 160,000 total residents.

▪ Services for older Johnson Countians — including increased public transit plus more retirement housing and nursing homes — must be higher priorities.

The number of people 65 or older doubles by 2029, up 76,000 people in that time (compared to just 2,000 more kids).

Not all urban counties share in the surge of homeowners.

Wyandotte County’s population peaks in the next quarter-century at around 171,000. Then it declines to 158,000 by 2064, below the current 162,000 figure.

But the real losers will be rural areas.

Marion County in central Kansas plummets from 12,200 people to 4,100 by 2064. Out west, Wallace County drops from 1,500 to barely 300. Up north, Smith County falls from 3,800 to 1,500.

Johnson County doesn’t have that problem. It has had a strong record of growth the last 50 years. The next five decades likely will bring more of the same, with many positive outcomes and a few not-so-upbeat ones, too.

Ready for the crowds?