Suburban sprawl dominates Utah’s record population growth

Traffic on I-15 during rush hour. Photo by Flickr user Garret.

Utah’s is the nation’s fastest-growing state according to according to U.S. Census Bureau national and state population estimates released on Tuesday.  The bureau estimates that the state crossed the 3.0 million mark the last year with a population increase of 2.3 percent between July 1, 2015, to July 1, 2016, bringing the total population to 3.1 million

The bureau’s estimates mirror population estimates released this month by the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.  The institute’s estimate was just 3,000 more than the bureau’s.  While Utah grew faster than any other state this year, the University of Utah’s report indicates that most of Utah’s growth has occurred in suburban and exurb communities.

The two counties along the Wasatch Front that experienced the highest rate of growth were Morgan and Wasatch Counties, which grew by 4.0 and 4.8 percent respectively.  Both counties are close enough to job centers in Ogden and Provo, but far enough away that car commutes are the only option for residents.

Of the four main counties on the Wasatch Front, Utah County leads in population growth.  The Gardner Policy Institute estimates that Utah County’s population grew by 3.0 percent adding 17,668 people last year.  Utah County led the four counties in growth rate and in total numbers of new residents.  Davis County came in second with a growth rate of 2.0 percent, adding 6,555 new residents.

Salt Lake County added 14,223 residents last year, with a growth rate of 1.3 percent.

Since the 2010 Census, population growth along the Wasatch Front has been led by the suburban communities at the Point of the Mountain and in the exurb communities in Morgan and Wasatch Counties.  Utah, Morgan and Wasatch have the highest growth rates since 2010, at 16.8, 21.7 and 27.5 percent respectively.  Utah County leads in total growth since 2010

Utah County leads in total growth since 2010, adding an estimated 86,798 new residents.  Despite having about a half million more residents, Salt Lake County added fewer new residents than Utah with an estimated population growth of 79,217 people since 2010.

While Salt Lake County lags in total population growth, South Jordan has been on the fastest growing cities list nearly every year since 2010 and was ranked as the fifth fastest-growing city in the country in 2015.

Utahn’s may in general still prefer sprawl, but there is ample evidence that sprawl has adverse effects on not only the environmental but the economy and residents’ health and quality of life.   Sprawl has been shown to impede social mobility.

One contributor to sprawl has been the limited housing stock in urban centers like Salt Lake.  But there are signs the region’s urban centers will see significant growth in the next few years.  The current boom in multifamily housing has been concentrated in and around downtown Salt Lake and in downtown Sandy, both communities contain the majority of estimated 9,000 multifamily units under construction along the Wasatch Front.  Salt Lake alone accounts for over one-third of multifamily units under construction.  Building Salt Lake estimates that there are currently over 3,800 multifamily units under construction in the city with another 3,200 in development.

About Isaac Riddle 630 Articles

Isaac Riddle grew up just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. He has a BA in English literature from the University of Utah and a Masters of Journalism from Temple University. Isaac has written for
Next City, The Philadelphia Public School Notebook and Salt Lake City Weekly. Before embarking on a career in journalism, Isaac taught High School English in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. Isaac is the founder of Building Salt Lake and can be reached at

  • guest2016

    Good analysis. The only thing I would push back on is that not all suburban growth would be considered “sprawl.” There has been significant infill development in several suburban and more compact development in suburban communities. For example, Sandy is developing primarily multi-family development in their downtown area. I suspect much of the growth in South Jordan is in Daybreak, which I think many would not be categorized as sprawl, but more compact, new urbanist development. To your point, because of simple land availability, both infill and greenfield, there will continue to be more growth outside of SLC than within. But not all of this growth is “sprawl.” I think it would take a more detailed analysis of the characteristics of new development including building types and greenfield vs infill development to come to the conclusion on the headline of this article.

  • Building Salt Lake

    Good points. The sprawl references counties that have had the most significant population growth. Sandy’s downtown growth was mentioned as a sign away from sprawl. Daybreak’s growth is definitely more urban than sprawl, but with the exception of the TRAX line, South Jordan has poor transit access.