Montgomery County became the first jurisdiction in Maryland with a population of more than one million last year after gaining more than 13,000 people since 2011.
U.S. Census data released this month puts the county’s population at 1,004,709 as of July 2012.
Prince George’s County had the next largest population in the state, with 881,138 people. Kent County had the lowest, with 20,191.
Most of Montgomery’s population can be traced to the fact that there were 13,097 births from 2011 to 2012 and only 5,467 deaths, according to the county planning department.
Also during that time, 8,700 people moved from other countries into the county, and 3,100 moved out.
Migration from the county is a trend county planners attribute to the recovering economy and housing market, which gives people more freedom to sell their homes as they find work elsewhere.
“We’ve planned for our population to increase,” Rose Krasnow, the county’s acting director of planning, said in a statement. “Years ago, we set up tools to preserve our agricultural land and maintain our single-family neighborhoods. More recently we have created many mixed-use, multi-family housing opportunities in our downtowns or near Metro.”
A growing population raises the perennial concern of creating more traffic, but the county has been taking the right steps to mitigate increased congestion, said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter-Growth, which advocates for walkable, transit-oriented development.
“[The population] makes it more important than ever that the county continue to focus on transit-oriented development and new rapid-transit systems,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz said the proposed Purple Line light-rail system and bus rapid transit systems — in which buses travel in dedicated lanes to avoid traffic — were the right kind of projects for the county.
The alternative is a scattered, suburban population having to use more crowded roads, he said.
The county’s growth rate from 2011 to 2012 was 1.3 percent, lower than the rates in the previous three years, which ranged from 1.6 percent to 1.8 percent, according to planners.
A similar slowing of growth has also occurred in areas such as Prince George’s County and Fairfax County in Virginia, which also have large population bases, said Roberto Ruiz, research director for the Montgomery County Planning Department. Such decreases are inevitable, he said.
“You’re not going to be able to keep up that rate [if] you’re already starting with a big base,” Ruiz said.