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Little Things


Third Street (or Highway 55) before sidewalks were added

McCALL - Sometimes it's the little things that have the biggest effect on why we like the community we call home. Little things like sidewalks.

Third Street - also called Highway 55 - is a major thoroughfare in McCall, a resort community of almost 3,000 year-round residents on the shores of Payette Lake and surrounded by the Payette National Forest. If you live or visit or just want to overnight in McCall, you're going to get to know Third Street. It's the quickest, easiest way in and out of town.

Unless, you were a pedestrian. Until recently, a big stretch of Third Street didn't have sidewalks. To walk or bike from the south side to downtown, to had to negotiate a narrow gravel shoulder with cars and trucks whizzing to and fro. Not so easy and certainly not so safe for a parent with kids in tow.

But it wasn't just an issue of pedestrian and bicyclist safety. Owners of businesses up and down Third Avenue complained that the lack of sidewalks effectively created a set of "economic islands" that interrupted the flow of foot traffic normally found in most downtowns. The whole always being greater than the sum of its parts, they argued, sidewalks that unified McCall's commercial district would boost their business.


Third Street (or Highway 55) after
 sidewalks were added

So, no surprise, the Mayor and City Council of McCall okayed an almost $1 million project to install them. Almost half the funds would come from local resources. The other half, they hoped, would come as a grant from Idaho CDBG - as in Community Development Block Grant - program.

The CDBG program was created to help local governments fund projects that would principally-benefit low- and moderate-income residents, eliminate slums or blight or meet other urgent community needs. Since its creation in 1978, CDBG has been one of the Federal government's best-liked funding sources because it makes local governments the "decider" on how and where CDBG funds could most effectively be used in their communities.

Because of their populations, larger cities in Idaho like Boise or Coeur d'Alene, Idaho Falls or Pocatello are "entitled" under Federal law to receive annual allocations of CDBG funds. Smaller cities and towns - like McCall - in the rest or "balance" of the state must compete for funding from the $7 to $8 million in CDBG funds the Idaho Department of Commerce receives annually. In 2012 the Department made 29 Idaho CDBG awards.

"It's amazing to see all of the growth and development that communities across Idaho are pursuing," with Idaho CDBG funds, Governor Butch Otter has said, "helping them improve the infrastructure necessary to attract new businesses and serve our citizens." For proof, just look at some of the 2012 awardees.

Arco, Dietrich and Fairfield won funds to improve water systems while Cascade, Benewah and Salmon upgraded their sewers. Latah, Bannock and Wilder won them for downtown revitalization while Boundary and Jerome counties used them to remove barriers to accessibility. Riggins, Haneen and Shoshone used them for community and senior centers while Bonneville, Burley and Oneida County created jobs and developed industrial parks.

And yes, as hoped, the City of McCall was awarded $500,000 in Idaho CDBG funds to not only install 650 feet of curb, gutter and sidewalk but also to make water system improvements, storm water improvements, undergrounding of utility lines, and installation of street trees and street lighting along Third Street.

The work's already been done, the investment's already paying off. Pedestrians and bicyclists are safer. Visitors say McCall's more attractive. The economic islands are gone and commercial occupancy along Third Street is up 25 percent.

"If you visit McCall today," says the Community Transportation Association of Idaho, "you will see a vibrant, pedestrian/bike friendly downtown area good for residents, tourists and businesses alike!" And all because of little things. Like sidewalks.

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