The Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments published a 7-page memo July 25 updating the status of the long-planned Route 34/Main Street widening project through Derby.
The project previously had a start date of early 2018, but the start date was pushed back because of changes to the road’s design plan requested by Derby City Hall.
Right now there is no solid start date for the road work, according to Mark Nielsen, NVCOG’s director of planning and assistant director.
“The best guess is that, if everything goes well, and CTDOT approves the design revision as currently being considered, construction may begin sometime in mid/late 2019. But, again, there are a lot of variables that will affect the schedule and can push construction,” Nielsen said in an email to The Valley Indy.
CTDOT stands for “Connecticut Department of Transportation.” Route 34 is a state road.
In May, Rick Dunne, NVCOG’s executive director, said the shovels-in-the-ground start date could be as late as 2020.
There is a Democratic Party primary for mayor tentatively scheduled for September, and a general municipal election in November. The Route 34 project is surely to be an issue in the race.
Rich Dziekan, the Republican candidate for mayor, said the Democrats in Derby City Hall are all talk and no action, with the Route 34 widening project the latest example.
Derby Mayor Anita Dugatto and her chief of staff, Leslie Creane, said the start date for the Route 34 widening project has never been set in stone, and any suggested changes to the project are to protect and benefit Derby’s economy.
According to past Valley Indy articles, in 2011 the Route 34/Main Street work was supposed to start in 2012 or 2013.
On Friday, the city’s website listed a start date of 2017, while the NVCOG’s website listed 2018.
Mayor Anita Dugatto asked for technical changes to the road project’s design in late 2016, after a series of public meetings about the Derby Redevelopment Zone ( the land next to Route 34 along the Housatonic River between the Derby-Shelton Bridge and the former Lifetouch property, which was recently sold).
The mayor, under the advice of a consultant, was worried the Route 34 widening project would be simply a highway through downtown.
The changes to the road’s design were in Derby’s best interest, and were supported by the majority of the public who attended a series of public forums, Dugatto and Creane said.
The changes requested by the city range from adjusting the width of turning lanes to the location of a bicycle path to the train station.
Read the memo from NVCOG for specific details on each request, or watch video of a meeting discussing the issue from May.
Story continues after the document and video.
Which Project Is This?
Derby has three monumental projects happening downtown at the same time — the Route 34 expansion (that is, adding lanes to improve traffic flow from the Shelton bridge to Home Depot), the replacement of millions of dollars worth of sewer infrastructure, and a new plan/zoning regulations for the Derby redevelopment zone next to Route 34/Main Street.
It is, essentially, the biggest undertaking in the history of Derby, Dugatto said.
That’s why getting fixated on the precise start date doesn’t make sense when so many parts are falling into place.
Instead, the focus should be on getting a road that fits Derby and won’t impede on economic development in the redevelopment zone next door. Everything must tie together, Dugatto said.
“We have all these projects happening, and we are going to do it once, and we are going to do it right,” Dugatto said.
But Dziekan said the Route 34 project has been in the design phase for years. There were reviews, public forums and previous tweaks.
To delay its start date this late in the game makes no sense, he said.
“We have the money. We are ready to move. Let’s get started, please,” Dziekan said.
Creane said the changes to the Route 34 widening project were for the greater good of Derby.
“Look, the changes we talked about were not major changes,” Creane said. “It’s not holding up anything. We are exactly where we were three months ago, except we now have a better plan going forward.”
Separate Projects Next To Each Other
For years now, the state Department of Transportation, the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments, the City of Derby, and the consulting firm DeCarlo & Doll, LLC have been working on a plan to widen Route 34 (a state-owned road known locally as Main Street) to improve traffic flow.
The project calls for lanes to be added from the Derby-Shelton bridge to roughly the entrance to Home Depot.
Last year city government, using grant money, hired DPZ Partners, a nationally known planning firm, to work with the public and city government to come up with a new zoning plan for the downtown redevelopment zone.
The downtown redevelopment zone is the stretch of land between Main Street/Route 34 and the Housatonic River. Derby has been trying to redevelop the area for years.
During a public forum in November 2016, Marina Khoury, a partner with the DPZ firm, criticized the Route 34 widening plan, saying it would, essentially, result in a “highway” through downtown Derby and restrict economic development in the redevelopment zone.
That prompted Mayor Dugatto’s administration to request NVCOG and the state DOT to make changes.
NVCOG held a public forum in May to discuss the proposed tweaks with the public.
NVCOG and state DOT officials met subsequently with Mayor Dugatto in a meeting that birthed the July 25 memo embedded above.
Carmen DiCenso, the president of the Derby Board of Aldermen who is also running for mayor — his campaign is collecting signatures to qualify for a Democratic primary — criticized Mayor Dugatto at a public meeting in May for allegedly not keeping Aldermen in the loop regarding requested changes to the Route 34 widening project.
He declined comment for this story, saying he needed more information from the state DOT.
Dugatto denied DiCenso’s claim at the time it was made.
Dugatto has argued she’s the first person to actually put Derby’s interests first when it comes to the Route 34 widening project.
Dziekan said the Democrats in Derby just can’t get things done.
The anticipated road widening project forced businesses off Main Street, because the state purchased properties to make room for the road.
“Now we just have empty buildings again. The buildings have not been knocked down. Nothing has happened,” Dziekan said. “People have been waiting 40 or 50 years for something to happen downtown. People are tired of waiting.”
Dziekan said instead of finding a new developer for Derby’s redevelopment zone on the south side of Main Street, Dugatto used grant money to hire the DPZ consulting firm to tell them what they already know — the redevelopment zone needs a mix of residential and commercial uses.
Creane, though, said Derby has to resist the impulse to do what’s most convenient.
The Route 34 expansion plan discussed in 2010 and 20111 is dated at this point, she said. The initial Route 34 widening plan introduced some six years ago was primarily concerned with moving cars through Derby, Creane said.
The newest plan is designed, in part, to foster economic development downtown.
“It’s about finding the balance so we can accommodate all these uses,” Creane said.