The population of Fort Smith is projected to grow about 20 percent by the year 2040 for a total of more than 107,000 people, but Greenwood will outpace the region.

Using U.S. Census data and sources such as the Arkansas Municipal League and University of Arkansas at Little Rock, the Frontier Metropolitan Planning Organization estimates most communities in the region will also have a 1 percent annual increase over the next 20 years.

While Fort Smith will likely to continue being the most populated city in the four-county area, the largest population growth locally is expected to be seen at Greenwood with a 153 percent projected increase by the year 2040.

Greenwood, the southern Sebastian County seat, is projected to have a population of about 24,495 by the year 2040. It was 9,666 in 2015.

Tony Crockett, a Justice of the Peace for Greenwood in the Sebastian County Quorum Court, says Greenwood has shown steady growth in all directions, particularly north toward Fort Smith.

"I’ve been telling people for a long time that eventually you won’t be able to tell where Greenwood ends and Fort Smith starts," Crockett said. "Fort Smith is growing south and east and Greenwood is going north so eventually they’ll meet up."

Alma and Barling are expected to see the second- and third-most growth in the region, respectively. Alma, which lies on U.S. 64 east of Van Buren, is expected to increase in population over 80 percent: 5,600 in 2015 to a projected 10,259 in 2040.

Barling is projected to have a 24 percent population increase by the year 2040, adding about 1,200 more people to its census.

While the methodology only takes into consideration a city’s population track record for projections, Alma Mayor Keith Greene points to the increasing chances of an Interstate 49 bridge across the Arkansas River at Alma to Barling as an added factor to take into consideration for its population growth.

"It’s looking more and more like that bridge will happen," Greene said. "We have a lot of optimism because there are so many people working on it, from Mexico to Canada."

State Rep. Mat Pitsch, R-Fort Smith, said a "dramatic increase" in population is often seen where two complete interstates meet. Although an I-49 bridge would not complete the north-south connection from Canada to Lafayette, La., it would be a major accomplishment in that direction.

In January, a request to fund $27.4 million in preliminary engineering for the I-49 bridge over the Arkansas River from Alma to Barling was included in the draft 2016-20 State Transportation Improvement Plan. The complete I-49 bridge cost, with connections to Highway 71 and right-of-ways, remains a "fluid" number, according to Danny Straessle, public information officers for the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department. Initial estimates are in the $486.5 million range.

Since the route and environmental studies have been done on the bridge project the department is "further along than just being in its infancy."

"Within the next five years this preliminary engineering will have been done," Straessle said.

More funding will be needed to create a final engineering plan though to bid the project out to contractors, Straessle added.

In Fort Smith Friday to meet constituents, Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., said he thinks the population projections for Greenwood, Barling, Alma and Fort Smith are "low." Boozman, whose ancestors settled near Hackett in the 1870s, mentioned the five-year transportation bill that Congress passed in December ended a decade of stop-gap funding and allow more secure long-term contracts with road and bridge builders. State and federal and local partnerships are "the only answer" to getting these large-scale infrastructure projects completed, Boozman said.

‘Happy and prosperous’

According to the United Nations World Population Prospects, the United States will hold 450,385 million people by the year 2100, a 40 percent increase. Speaking to a boisterous crowd outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia on the morning of Feb. 22, 1861, President-elect Abraham Lincoln hoisted a United States flag with a newly added 34th star. In his speech commemorating the event for the entry of Kansas to the nation as a free state, Lincoln said stars will be added from time to time "until we shall number … five hundred millions of happy and prosperous people."

Currently, the world’s population continues to grow but in a slower pace than in the past. A little more than 10 years ago, the world population was growing by 1.24 percent a year. Now it is growing by 1.18 percent per year, or about 84 million people annually, according to the UN report.

The world population is projected to increase by more than 1 billion people within the next 15 years, reaching 8.5 billion in 2030. It is projected to hit 9.7 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion by 2100. More than half of global population growth between now and 2050 is expected to occur in Africa, which grew at a pace of 2.55 from 2010 to 2015. The UN report also points out that life expectancy is projected to rise globally from 70 years to 77 years in 2045 and to 83 years in 2095. Such increases, the report adds, are contingent on further reductions in the further spread of HIV, and successfully combating other infectious and non-communicable diseases.

In 2015, there were 901 million people ages 60 or over, the UN report adds. This was 12 percent of the global population. The numbers are growing at a rate of 3.26 percent a year, so by the year 2050 all major areas of the world except for Africa will have nearly a quarter or more of their populations ages 60 or over.