State Rte 34 widening project finally underway with demolitions in Derby

New Haven

It’s a state transportation project that’s been 20 years in the making. On Wednesday, after all that time, the state took one of the first steps to widen Route 34 from two lanes to four. Rte. 34 becomes Main Street when it hits downtown Derby and that means several buildings, 100 years old, had to start to be torn down in the name of progress.

And that was good news for Joseph S., a longtime resident of Derby. He says traffic in that part of downtown Derby is often a nightmare.

Related: News 8 breaks down the average toll costs for Connecticut commuters, CT drivers react 

“Everybody who uses these roads knows that come rush hour, it could take 20 minutes or so just to traverse this mile or 2 miles,” Joseph said. “Any expansion of the roads would be much appreciated.”

While easing congestion is one of the main reasons for the widening project, people inside Derby City Hall see it as a potential economic goldmine for downtown development.  Besides the widening of the road, the plan also calls for area improvements like a better drainage system, sidewalks, more parking areas, and aesthetic improvements — like more trees.

“Excited to see the buildings come down because we know it’s going to mean progress,” said Carmen DiCenso, Derby’s Economic Development Liaison. “The state of Connecticut owns the property. They’re widening the road to make it a four lane road instead of two and it’s my job to make sure the property that’s left behind is developed.”

DiCenso says there are plenty of ideas on the table for development.

“Some of the ideas have been mixed use commercial and residential, another idea has been a hotel,” he said.

Apartments will be built near the Housatonic River — just down the street from where the buildings are being torn down. The goal is to use this a chance to give a jolt to the entire area.

“We’re going to be able to raise our tax base,” DiCenso said. “We’re going to be able to bring more people downtown. We’re going to make Derby a better place to live.”

Related: Police: Trooper in fatal crash was speeding, not intoxicated

DiCenso says the Main Street/Rte. 34 expansion is almost 20 years in the making. Joseph started to wonder if the expansion would ever happen. 

“This is what needs to happen,” Joseph said. “We need more people, we need nore tax dollars coming in, and we need more roads and infrastructure.”

Demolition should last until the end of the week. Construction on the new look for downtown Derby should begin next summer.

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