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Phoenix has lots of sun -- and people

PHOENIX (AP) -- Like thousands of other transplants from the Midwest, Mark Janousek moved here from Minnesota to escape the snow. He found plentiful sunshine, and he also found plenty of company.

"The people drive much, much too fast and follow too close. There's too many tailgaters -- I'd never seen that before," he said.Aggressive drivers on congested highways are just two byproducts from Phoenix's explosive expansion in the 1990s -- a population surge that made the city the nation's fastest growing.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported Tuesday that Phoenix's population increased 21.3 percent between 1990 and 1998 to 1,198,064.

San Antonio was second among cities of 1 million people or more, with an increase of 14.1 percent to 1,114,130 over the same period.

San Diego (9.9 percent, 1,220,666), Houston (8.0 percent, 1,786,691) and Dallas (6.8 percent, 1,075,894) rounded out the top five among major cities.

But the Census Bureau said the fastest growing category was cities with populations between 10,000 and 50,000, which grew 8.6 percent overall.

Mesquite, Nev., rocketed 441.2 percent to 10,125 people, and Frisco, Texas, grew 328.5 percent to 26,304. Of course, a few new folks can make a relatively dramatic difference in smaller cities. A city of 1 million, by contrast, would have to grow by 86,000 people to show an 8.6 percent increase.

According to the new estimates, New York remained the nation's most populous city, with 7.4 million people, followed by Los Angeles, with 3.6 million. Phoenix became the nation's seventh most populous city in 1998, climbing from ninth in 1990. San Antonio rose from 10th to eighth place.

The fact that Phoenix was tops in population growth doesn't surprise residents.

"All you have do is look around Phoenix to see that we have been growing quickly," said Sandy Bahr, spokeswoman for the Sierra Club in Phoenix. "But we haven't planned that growth very well."

During the decade, the massive growth has reshaped the look of the city, with new factories, highways, houses, office buildings, schools, shopping centers and sports stadiums.

"The economy has become much more diversified," said Ferrell Quinlan, spokesman for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce. "We have a lot of high-tech, high-paying jobs that have brought wealth in."

San Antonio officials say they have also diversified beyond a traditional reliance on the military. The city has developed a vibrant medical and biomedical economy and increased its tourism and convention business.

"What we're seeing is the payoff from the transformation of this city's economy over the last 25 years," said Joe Krier, president of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.

Phoenix's growth this decade continues a pattern from the 1970s and '80s, driven in part by retirees looking for warmer days and blue-collar workers fleeing declining industries in the rust-belt states.

But cheap housing and land in the early 1990s and an influx of California transplants helped launch the current boom, Quinlan said.

For Phoenix officials, the go-go growth has been a cultural and recreational boon. The city added professional hockey, baseball and basketball teams this decade alone.

But Bahr and others say there is a clear downside to the influx of more than 200,000 newcomers in eight years.

More people means more cars and longer commutes, more accidents and higher insurance rates. A transportation research group ranked Phoenix third among large metro areas for traffic deaths.

More people means more pollution from lawn mowers, cars and factories. The city could lose federal highway funding if it doesn't improve its air quality, especially during the winter months when brown smog shrouds Phoenix and increases respiratory problems.

More people also means overcrowded schools, more stress on the city's social services and more crime.

"Our quality of life has suffered because of this very rapid, unplanned growth," said Bahr, whose group is involved in a petition drive to create controls on growth.