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The sidewalk ends in a lot of places in Missoula, and so do curbs and gutters.

This summer, a city intern is going to identify all those locations so neighborhood leaders and others will know where the gaps are.

"Currently, the city doesn't have that kind of detail, so it's a really good start," said LaNette Diaz, neighborhood liaison with the Office of Neighborhoods.

An $1,800 grant from the office funds the project, and more grant money is available. This one came about because folks in the Franklin to the Fort Neighborhood applied. The Missoula City Council adopted the Franklin to the Fort's infrastructure plan in 2006.

Then those residents came to believe it was a good idea to have a citywide inventory of sidewalks. And identifying gaps is a first step in setting priorities for filling them, Diaz said.

Council members recently had to choose between helping fund sidewalks on Lolo Street or Catlin Street, and after much discussion, they gave Catlin the OK. Diaz said she knows residents of the Rattlesnake have been working hard to improve Lolo Street, but Catlin was listed as a priority in Franklin to the Fort's plan.

And she said when neighbors set priorities, that could help the Public Works Department set them, too.

Director Steve King said the city builds just 50 blocks of sidewalks every year, but the list of streets that aren't "complete streets," with places for cars and walkers and bikers, is long.

"I could just go on and on with entire neighborhoods that don't have the most basic curb and sidewalk features," King said.

Mostly, he said, it's because neighborhoods developed when they were still in the county, which didn't require sidewalks with subdivisions.

But finding a way to pay for those improvements is another matter. Last year, the council turned down a long-planned special improvement district, or special tax, along Hillview Way. The big project was going to bring a new road - and things like sidewalks and bike lanes - to the street.

"I'm very sorry the City Council didn't go ahead and go forward with that SID. I believe the costs are simply going to go up and up and delay is not on our side," said Jeff Stevens, a neighborhood leader and Community Forum member.

But many residents also said too few people carried too big a burden of the multimillion-dollar cost. So the project isn't moving forward, but members of the Community Forum, with a representative from every neighborhood, are looking for ways to pay for infrastructure.

Stevens said many ideas are on the table, like an infrastructure bond, and districts, like a parks improvement district. But it's early in the conversation, too.

"I think this process, this community discussion is just getting started," Stevens said.

In the meantime, the Office of Neighborhoods offers $20,000 worth of grants in September for smaller neighborhood projects, Diaz said. The inventory of sidewalks should be complete in time for people to review it before applying for a grant, too.

A maximum award is $3,000, she said. Creating an infrastructure plan costs an estimated $2,000. Diaz is available to help neighbors with project ideas, applying for funds and getting a project under way.

"I just want people to know that the grants exist for neighborhood improvements," she said.

Call for help

Missoula's Office of Neighborhoods stands ready to help citizens who want to apply for grant money to fund neighborhood projects. For more information, contact neighborhood liaison LaNette Diaz at 552-6081.

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