Smart planning and teamwork is a must to ensure Tri-Cities’ booming growth is managed correctly

Indicators show the Tri-Cities will hit the 300,000 population mark this year if it hasn’t already, and there is no sign this upward trend is going to stop anytime soon.

Census Bureau data shows the Tri-Cities grew by 5,700 people in 2018, hitting 296,000 and making it the eighth-largest metro area in the Pacific Northwest.

And while comments on social media aren’t the most reliable gauge, it was fascinating to read the different reactions to this news story on our Facebook page.

The post drew 147 comments, ranging from people excited about the population surge because they think more people means more amenities, to those who want the growth to stop because they are worried about traffic congestion, drugs and a lack of affordable housing.

“Too many people.”

“Makes me want to get the heck out of here!!!”

“Looking forward to moving, too big for us.”

“Ruined affordable housing market we had 5 years ago… Everything under 250k is super old and trash.”

“So big and yet so small.”

“Why don’t we have a Trader Joe’s yet?”

“The cities should come together and build attractions.”

“Can we please figure out Rd 68?”

“Why can’t we have nice things?”

“Sadly our power is broken up between all the cities and 2 counties.”

“I miss the smaller town I grew up in … I hate this growth.”

We venture to guess most Tri-Citians would like the community to have the shopping, restaurant and entertainment options of a metropolis, but they don’t want the heavy traffic, outrageous home prices and other negatives that are typically associated with big-city living.

Columbia River shoreline
The Columbia River shoreline File Tri-City Herald

They want the Tri-Cities to keep its rural, small-town vibe, and that’s going to be a challenge as we continue to attract more people to the area.

We know our city and county leaders have been working hard to plan for growth in their own jurisdictions. However, there is room for improvement in planning and working together as one metro area.

Benton County commissioners are bent on breaking away from as many joint services with Franklin County as possible, the Regional Public Facilities District Board has been in a holding pattern, and the pro-growth/anti-growth factions in West Richland continually seem to be at odds with each other.

On the bright side, though, we also have seen some good signs of cooperation.

The collaborative spirit between Washington State University Tri-Cities Chancellor Sandra Haynes and Columbia Basin College President Rebekah Woods is a good example.

The two leaders were hired about the same time a little over a year ago, and meet regularly, putting the needs of the community above protecting their own turfs.

And the shovels finally came out at Vista Field, a joint redevelopment project between the Port of Kennewick and the city of Kennewick.

In 2013 the port closed the airport to planes, opening up the property to all kinds of possibilities.

Back in the planning days, we said having 103 acres of vacant land available in the heart of the community is almost unheard of, and we applauded the Vista Vision Task Force for opening up its brainstorm sessions to everyone in the Tri-Cities.

The group encouraged participation from Pasco, Richland and the surrounding area, which was smart.

As the Tri-Cities continues to grow – as it surely will – such a broad approach to planning will be key.

Of all the Facebook comments we read in response to our census story, one in particular was perceptive.

It read: “We are no longer a small town, but we have not learned how to operate as a big city yet either.”

Well said. Whether some people like it or not, the Tri-Cities is still booming. Smart, inclusive planning will be key to helping us through these growing pains.