"This is the catalyst we've been waiting for," Norristown Planning Director Jayne Musonye said of the project.
On Monday, officials from across the region gathered for a groundbreaking ceremony to mark the first phase - extending Lafayette Street from where it dead-ends at Ford Street to Conshohocken Road in Plymouth Township.
Musonye said developers are already calling about the area.
Closing that half-mile gap on Lafayette will open up a new route to the Norristown Transit Center and train station, and the Montgomery County courthouse, cutting traffic in half on commuter-choked Ridge Pike and Main Street, County Commissioner Leslie S. Richards said.
At Monday's gathering of current and former county and municipal officials, Richards also touted plans to widen Ridge Pike; add parking areas, landscaping, and streetlights; relocate and widen the Schuylkill River Trail; and add "parklike" access points to the river.
The long-range project calls for new exits off the Pennsylvania Turnpike and Route 202. Planning and funding for those phases are still being worked out.
According to the 2009 Economic Revitalization Strategy, Norristown's top three long-term priorities revolve around the Lafayette Street project and its promise of river access.
"So many people now drive through Norristown and do not even realize that we are on the Schuylkill River," Richards said.
Ruth Damsker, who worked on the Lafayette project as a county commissioner a decade ago, said Norristown "is really a jewel . . . that just needs some TLC."
Musonye said the borough's revitalization plan was modeled in part after areas like Manayunk and Conshohocken that have used the river as a focal point of redevelopment.
"We need to be able to use that as an asset," she said.
Traffic in the area will get worse during construction. But Richards said she hoped people will see "the promise on the other side."
"Construction is painful. There will be a lot of it before things get better," said Richards, who commutes from Whitemarsh to Norristown. "I will be sharing in your pain."
Contact Jessica Parks at firstname.lastname@example.org, 610-313-8117, or follow on Twitter @ JS_Parks.