COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The general consensus is that Columbus and its surrounding communities will look drastically different in 10 years — however they turn out. 

As the state’s population stagnated or decreased in almost every other region, central Ohio ballooned, according to the Greater Ohio Policy Center. Columbus was the sole reason Ohio technically grew rather than shrank from 2000 to 2020, the policy center reported in November.

It is not likely to slow any time soon. The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) projected that the 15-county region is on track for a population of around 3.15 million by 2050, adding hundreds of thousands of residents in the next decade. 

“We see strong, steady population growth,” said MORPC Executive Director William Murdock. “We’re really concerned about what that population is going to need: housing, transportation.”

Some of that can be attributed to new residents relocating to Columbus from out-of-state — or from elsewhere in the world. About 25% of the region’s population growth is due to international immigration, Murdock said.

“But a big chunk of it is just people living longer and having kids,” Murdock said. “When we think about the housing that we need, and people say, ‘Well, who are these people?’ Well, it might be your kids.”

More housing, density

Wherever they come from, as new residents settle in the region over the next decade, Murdock said central Ohio’s housing woes won’t go away on their own. 

“That kind of growth means, if we think we’re tight on housing now, we’re going to be even tighter if we don’t do something about it,” he said.

In Columbus, population growth has already eclipsed the number of under-construction residential units. A housing needs assessment survey by the Building Industry Association of Central Ohio, released in late 2022, concluded the city would need to nearly double its average number of housing permits to meet projected needs.

MORPC released its Regional Housing Strategy in 2020, prescribing more than 100 policy solutions to boost housing at all price points in central Ohio. Since then, some cities and suburbs have begun to work on changing their zoning codes and establishing incentives that encourage more housing construction.

Others are struggling to kick those recommendations into gear.

“They don’t have the staff, or the money, to change the code,” Murdock said. MORPC is looking into solutions for that, as well as ways to make sure central Ohio’s cities, towns, and suburbs are collaborating with one another. 

Further from city limits, more traditionally rural communities will eventually fill out differently, he said — depending on whether their leaders choose to prioritize “pure” economic growth or protect farmlands to some degree. Right now, farm property that was recently sold dots western Licking County, with some of it already earmarked for future commercial projects. 

Different ways to get around

Orange construction cones are common sights along central Ohio roadways, as general maintenance converges with extensive construction projects. The Ohio Department of Transportation’s series of million-dollar projects on interstates 70 and 71 in downtown, which first started in 2010 and totals $1.4 billion, is still underway. 

SmartLanes may be added to I-71 by 2028

But 10 years from now, Murdock said central Ohio residents should also be able to choose from more than what’s currently available to get from point A to point B in and out of central Ohio. 

The LinkUS initiative, which would expand public transit through a rapid bus system and additional connections, will get a vote on the fall 2024 ballot, Mayor Andrew Ginther said in his State of the City remarks in March. Those proposed corridors are available here.

Gov. Mike DeWine’s office also submitted an application, alongside state and local partners, in March for studies of Amtrak passenger rail on two proposed statewide routes — including the 3C+D Corridor route that would connect Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Dayton. 

MORPC and its partners also submitted an application for what Murdock calls the “Midwest Connect,” linking Columbus to Pittsburgh and Chicago. 

More information about whether either project is moving into the next phase should be released in the fall, Murdock said. 

All of these projects — both proposed and underway — could play parts in determining how central Ohio looks down the line.

“The ways that it’ll look different, if we do it right, is we’ll have more of the things that we like about this community,” Murdock said. “If we do it right, it’ll look like Columbus and central Ohio, but it’ll feel a little bit better because we’ve added things.”