The promise of new development hangs over the former mill towns and farms in the Blackstone Valley. But for the commuter backed up almost a mile on Route 146 in Sutton at the Boston Road stoplight; or the business owner who would like to locate or expand in the area but needs gas and sewer lines, which aren't all in place; or the conservation advocate who is concerned about losing sensitive wildlife habitats, the everyday growing pains can be frustrating.

' Central Massachusetts has been on the cusp of a boom for at least a decade, a growing link with Boston's MetroWest and Providence. Yet despite the available land and direct access to the Massachusetts Turnpike, critical parts of the region such as the Blackstone Valley are still grappling with putting together a coherent package of targeted development, transportation, open-space protection and the supply of basic things such as water and sewer lines known as “infrastructure.”

The lack of a plan across communities hampers development and mires daily life with traffic hassles and long slogs between housing, shopping and work. Development that does come may be haphazard.

“There are so many infrastructure issues that are coming to light now. Developers can go to another town and have it all ready,” said Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jeannie Hebert, who spearheads economic development in the valley.

“What we're talking about here is (an opportunity for) development by choice, not by chance,” said Vera L. Kolias, principal planner for the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission, or CMRPC.

CMRPC launched a Blackstone Valley Prioritization Project this spring, focusing on identifying economic development, transportation, workforce and preservation priorities in eight of 11 towns in the Blackstone Valley. Grafton, Upton and Hopedale were included in a similar project CMRPC recently undertook with the 495/MetroWest Development Compact.

Lawrence B. Adams, CMRPC executive director, said that coordinated, regional plans for development would be most likely to get state and federal grants that can make or break a project. “The state's role is to identify where their investments will have the best return,” he said.

CMRPC staff and partners from the Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce and the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor Commission are meeting over the next few weeks with planning boards and officials in Sutton, Mendon, Northbridge, Douglas, Uxbridge and Blackstone to target priority areas in their towns. More regional events, including a public forum to bring together the issues from each town, will be held in June.

While planners talk of traffic corridors, spot locations, expedited permitting and infrastructure — words that make the average citizen's eyes glaze over — it comes down to quality of life.

Job creation, for example, creates more travel and congestion if people don't have public transportation or housing nearby; and if you build housing, you have to provide for services that families who live in those houses need, explained Mr. Adams. At the same time, you don't want to harm the character of small towns.

These impacts of growth cross town lines.

Shopping is one of the regional needs both created by and affecting growth.

Cold Spring Brook Place, a mixed-use retail parcel that would include a grocery store and bank, has sat undeveloped along Route 146 in Sutton for a decade, an example of hurdles facing business development. Originally delayed by lack of water and sewer and the costly requirements for roadway improvements, and then a victim of the economy and the former developer's bankruptcy, the site may get a boost soon.

Two years ago, the state committed to funding $6 million to widen the road and improve traffic flow on that section of Route 146, removing one major headache from a new developer.

Jennifer S. Hager, planning director for Sutton, said a purchase and sale agreement was recently signed for Cold Spring Brook Place.

“It's basically about state funding,” Ms. Hager said about the benefits of looking at development from a regional perspective. “Now the developer doesn't have to shell out $6 million worth of improvements.

“The regional impact (of Cold Spring Brook Place) put it in line for funding, so the state gets the biggest bang for the buck. The (Blackstone Valley Prioritization) project will identify areas like that.”

Michael G. DeCaro, president and CEO of Classic Envelope Inc., has been counting on regional development support since he moved his business from the Whitinsville section of Northbridge across Route 146 to Douglas last month, a move that allowed him to add at least 25 new jobs. A crucial element to bringing in the infrastructure Classic Envelope requires, including natural gas, sewerage and larger water lines, is a plan to build a road between Gilboa Street, near his plant in the former Hayward-Schuster mill and Whitins Road in Sutton, across from the Sutton Industrial Park.

Once the road is built, “Then you get gas lines, sewer lines, you can bring in an industrial park and bring in jobs for people; hopefully transit, too,” Mr. DeCaro said.

The West Side Connector Road, as the plan is called, would open up 300 acres of industrial and office-zoned land in Douglas and Sutton, without changing the rural character of the towns. It has received preliminary approval from the Sutton, Douglas and Northbridge planning boards and conservation commissions, according to Douglas Town Engineer William Cundiff, but the towns are waiting for a cost estimate from consulting engineers. There are other pieces of putting together a multitown project that need to occur before grants can be sought, too, and the process, according to Mr. DeCaro, is frustratingly slow.

Craig L. Blais, president and CEO of Worcester Business Development Corporation, said his nonprofit organization has offered to work with the towns like it did with developing CenTech Park in Grafton and Shrewsbury. He said a project like this “needs someone to quarterback it, to get up everyday to pursue grants.

“That's one area that we could make a difference in.”

Mr. Blais said that having a regional development “roadmap” that is expected to come out of the Blackstone Valley Prioritization Project will be useful in grant requests to show that both private developers and local communities will benefit from a project.

“Coming into a community knowing that this process has occurred adds to predictability,” Ms. Kolias said. “Time is money.”

Ms. Hebert said, “This project is going to open doors to a lot of communities.”

CMRPC plans to conduct a similar project later this summer with 13 towns arcing around Worcester from Southbridge to Boylston.

A schedule of Blackstone Valley Prioritization Project public meetings can be found at