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Erik Burgess, Published August 30 2013

State grant sought to fund new MATBUS route in Dilworth

DILWORTH – A fixed bus route could be returning next year to the heart of Dilworth.

The city of about 4,000 people just east of Moorhead hasn’t had a fixed bus route through the center of town since the 1990s, but city leaders recently agreed to put Dilworth in the running for a state Department of Transportation grant that would cover 80 percent of the cost to establish a new route.

It would be a part-time route running six hours a day, Monday through Saturday, during the “peak hours” of morning and evening rush, said Moorhead Transit Director Lori Van Beek.

MATBUS now serves the western edge of Dilworth near the Walmart on 34th Street.

Van Beek said Dilworth has a good shot at getting the roughly $89,000 grant because the state is looking to fund new routes in underserved areas. The grant application was due Friday, and local officials will know by November if Dilworth will be awarded the grant.

“The state likes to see that we’ve gone through a process, and we’re requesting service that we’ve already determined there’s a need for,” Van Beek said. “It’s in our (five-year transit) plan, so if they’re going to fund new services, I think we have a good chance.”

The Fargo-Moorhead Metropolitan Council of Governments is studying the best route through Dilworth, but there will also be public meetings before the route is finalized, Van Beek said.

If the grant is awarded, Dilworth would be on the hook for 20 percent, or about $22,000. Van Beek said up to $9,000 of that could be made up in rider fares.

Mayor Chad Olson said he’s not certain there is a “large-scale demand” for a fixed route through Dilworth, but the city found room in its budget to try the service next year. He wants to see if the route is widely used.

“Part of it is keeping Dilworth connected to the greater Fargo-Moorhead area and if that need is there, we need to evaluate (that),” Olson said. “We won’t know for sure until we actually do it, and now we’re having the opportunity to do it.”

Van Beek believes there is a demand for a regular bus route through the older parts of Dilworth.

“We have a lot of requests for service into Dilworth and a lot of people walk to match up with the MATBUS from Dilworth, and it can be a long cold walk in the winter,” she said. “So I think it’ll be used very well.”

MATBUS had a fixed route through Dilworth in the 1990s until Clay County Rural Transit offered the city a better rate. Over time, ridership numbers dropped and so did the funding, Van Beek said.

“It’ll be much more successful if it’s part of the MATBUS system,” Van Beek said.

If the route is established, MATBUS hopes to connect it to a proposed southeast Moorhead bus route in 2015, making it a full-time route that would take riders near the new Sanford campus and Menards.

Once a route is established, MNDOT will continue to provide about 80 percent of the funding to keep it operational, Van Beek said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518