Plan Hillsborough population projections: 500,000 more residents by 2050

Get ready, Hillsborough County, you’re going to have a half million new neighbors by 2050.

That will hike the total population up to 2 million. Of the newcomers, 100,000 will move to Tampa, with most settling in the central part of town: downtown Tampa, Tampa Heights, Seminole Heights and East Tampa.

The number of jobs in the county will jump by more than 432,900 to nearly 1.4 million.

Greater Plant City’s population will more than double to about 154,000. Jobs will more than double there, too, to nearly 77,500.

And 81 percent of the county's population will live outside the coastal high-hazard areas.

Those are some of the projections of Plan Hillsborough, the planning agency for all local governments in Hillsborough County. Plan Hillsborough Manager of Economics, Demographics and Research Yassert Gonzalez delves into the data and demographic trends behind the projections in a series of informational blogs posted on Plan Hillsborough's website from 2023 through March of this year.

Population growth

Contrary to conventional wisdom, Gonzalez says the county did not experience accelerated growth between 2020 and 2022. Some believe the influx of people from out of state who were allowed to work remotely during the pandemic created a population boom. But the population grew faster from 2018 to 2020, at 4.96 percent, as opposed to 2.82 percent from 2020 to 2022, Gonzalez says. People were skeptical so the planners checked it twice.

As for the number of people from out of state who are here working remotely, “it may be something that we may not be able to measure, because we don’t have the survey tools, we don’t have the data,’’ Gonzalez says.

More than half the people moving to Hillsborough County come from out of state. The rest arrive from other counties in Florida, especially Pinellas, Pasco, Polk and Miami-Dade.

Tampa, with a population of about 392,950 in 2020, is expected to jump to more than 493,200 by 2050. Central Tampa's urban core is projected to have more than 197,500 residents, up from its current population of nearly 149,500.

Temple Terrace is projected to grow by 29 percent to more than 34,450 residents. Plant City government FacebookThe population of the greater Plant City area is projected to more than double by 2050Plant City is projected to boom, mainly by annexing agricultural land north of Interstate 4, where subdivisions are being built, says Jay Collins, special areas manager for Plan Hillsborough.

Accommodating all those new neighbors seems daunting, considering that the roads are already congested and there is an existing $13 billion backlog of transportation needs.

“We’re going to need to do a lot more than we’re doing now,’’ says Hillsborough County Commissioner Harry Cohen. “I think that’s probably the biggest takeaway.’’

He says the county has not kept up with the infrastructure needed to support the population. 

“It’s really across the board in every area, whether it’s fire rescue and making sure that we have good response times by having enough stations and enough equipment and personnel,” Cohen says. “It’s obviously roads and bridges and sidewalks and intersection improvements. It’s lack of mass transit options. It’s schools.”

The county is doing better in some areas more than others, he says, pointing out that the government is investing in the water and wastewater infrastructure and making plans, should the renewal of the Community Investment Tax for capital projects pass in the fall, to have a “robust’’ plan for public safety projects to meet the needs of the Sheriff's Office and Hillsborough County Fire Rescue.

“But our transportation infrastructure is still our Achilles heel,’’ he says.

Traffic exceeding projections

Though the population didn’t grow more than expected during the pandemic, the traffic volume did. Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority Executive Director Greg Slater told the County Commission last summer that traffic volume on the Selmon Expressway was 19 percent above pre-pandemic projections.

“What we’re seeing is pretty interesting growth,” Slater says in an interview with 83 Degrees. “We’re seeing volume differences. We’re averaging today about 1.6 million transactions (tolls) on the expressway a week. And a year ago, it was 1.5 million. So we’re 100,000 more in a week today than we were a year ago.”

In 2023, he says, daily transactions set records about nine or 10 times, though it usually wasn’t much, five or 10 or maybe 100 tolls.

“Until that day when we had the Taylor Swift concert, we had the Lightning game and we had the Rays playing in the afternoon,” Slater says. “And that was our record day for a long time.’’

This year, a record was broken on March 1, “and there were no events happening at all," he says.

The growth and high volume patterns are coming at different times, Slater says, but most of the growth is in the middle of the day.Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority Executive Director Greg Slater

Looking long term, THEA is conducting a study on a potential extension of the Selmon east and south from Brandon to Riverview by means of an elevated roadway down the median of U.S. 301. With improvements on I-75, it could cut the rush hour drive time by a half hour, Slater says.

County Commissioners voted last summer to request that THEA and Plan Hillsborough’s Transportation Planning Organization start the planning process for the estimated $1.8 billion extension project. While several urged that the extension be completed as soon as possible, Slater says he doesn’t want to predict a timeline because projections may change during the planning process.

“I think some of those dates thrown out there, between 2040 and 2050, we’re still a little bit early to kind of tell that,” he says.

Within the next few years, the expressway will be widened to three lanes in each direction from Himes Avenue to Florida Avenue, which Slater says should ease bottlenecks. Another project to add travel lanes is planned along the eastern stretch from the Interstate 4 connector in Tampa to US 301 in Brandon.

“Frankly, what we want to do is make the investment where we can provide the greatest relief as quickly as we can,’’ he says.

Collins, who works with communities in the county on their plans for growth, says public transit and connectivity have to be part of the conversation on accommodating growth.

“It doesn’t help any of us if you are shopping at a Publix and you stare at the CVS next to it but you can’t get there unless you go back out onto the main road,” he says. “So we have to have connectivity between all our parcels or else we’re just going to be worse off than we already are."

Data-informed policies

The countywide growth projections are based on figures compiled by the Bureau of Economics and Business Research at the University of Florida. It produces the state’s official population statistics and projections. But since Plan Hillsborough generates smaller area forecasts, it also uses figures from building permits, housing units and other sources, Gonzalez notes.

Hillsborough County, Tampa, Plant City and Temple Terrace each have a comprehensive plan setting policies to guide where growth will take place. Those policies are reflected in their zoning regulations. The aim is to discourage people from moving into the coastal areas vulnerable to hurricane winds, flooding and sea level rise and to direct most new growth to the “urban service area,’’ a delineated area where utility service is provided.

The goal is to keep Hillsborough County a place where people want to live.

“I’ve been a planner here for 19 years, and I’ve lived in the city of Tampa or unincorporated Hillsborough County since 2001,’’ says Collins. “And since I arrived here I always thought that we had a positive quality of life. We do have rural lands, suburban lands and urban lands. You can be in downtown Tampa at a Lightning game and then, if you want, you can drive 35, 45 minutes out and you can be in a cow field. So I think that is something that is attractive to people from all over the United States.’’

For more information, go to Plan Hillsborough projections and data.
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Philip Morgan is a freelance writer living in St. Petersburg. He is an award-winning reporter who has covered news in the Tampa Bay area for more than 50 years. Phil grew up in Miami and graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in journalism. He joined the Lakeland Ledger, where he covered police and city government. He spent 36 years as a reporter for the former Tampa Tribune. During his time at the Tribune, he covered welfare and courts and did investigative reporting before spending 30 years as a feature writer. He worked as a reporter for the Tampa Bay Times for 12 years. He loves writing stories about interesting people, places and issues.