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David Zalubowski, Associated Press
Denver

Anyone who has lived along the Wasatch Front in recent years knows about rapid population growth. But a new publication by the Brookings Institute in Washington puts a new name on the phenomenon. The Wasatch Front, as well as four other emerging regional urban centers in the West, are becoming "megapolitan" areas, it says.

Together, this region has the ability in coming years to challenge and distance itself from California, which has been the bully on the Western block for decades now. But to do that effectively, the report, titled "Mountain Megas" and billed as a "blueprint for American prosperity," says the West will have to begin cooperating, forming regional governing boards, setting up high-speed rail and air networks among the cities and seeking better cooperation from Washington.

We feel confident that the new "megapolitan" West can cooperate to help its own economies flourish. We're less inclined to believe in help from Washington, especially as the report specifically identifies immigration reform as a necessary component. It also calls for more federal support for highways and transit — another thing that seems to be going the way of the dinosaur.

The report's figures are sobering. The five areas it identifies are large geographic regions that are rapidly becoming enormous interconnected metropolitan complexes. These are the Phoenix-Tucson area, greater Las Vegas, northern New Mexico (the Albuquerque area), Colorado's Front Range, and the Wasatch Front from Logan to Provo.

Together, these areas are expected to grow by 12.7 million residents and more than 8 million jobs by 2040. That will require another $2.25 trillion investment in housing and $916 billion in commercial and industrial space.

In other words, the area's tremendous growth rate is not going to slow any time soon, according to Brookings. Not only are current residents giving birth, people are moving here from other states, and immigrants, legal and illegal, are streaming here from south of the border.

The picture this report paints is mostly positive, but it also presents numerous challenges. The Wasatch Front already has an impressive head start on its transit infrastructure, although FrontRunner and TRAX will need to reach much farther in coming decades, as will new highways. Developers here also seem to be catching the vision in terms of new walkable communities, typified by the Daybreak development in South Jordan.

But enormous education challenges lie ahead, as well as effective ways to fund public services without harming economic growth.

Unfortunately, Washington may not be the partner the report envisions. That means regional planning and cooperation will become extremely important.