On an icy day, it’s not unheard of for cars and semi tractor trailer rigs traveling 230th Avenue northwest of Hays to slide off the hilly, narrow rock road.

“At our plant, we employ 360 people,” said Mark Hess, vice president of operations for Hess Services Inc. “This year alone, 20 to 25 of our employees have wrecked their cars and slid into the ditch.”

While 230th Avenue has a series of rollercoaster hills, one of the steepest that is north facing, in particular, gets very slick in icy wintry weather.

“Luckily we’ve had no serious injuries,” said Hess, “but it’s just very treacherous. And when a car and a big truck are passing by each other, it’s a gambit as to who is going to slide into the ditch first.”

Hess Services manufactures oilfield production equipment for customers throughout North Dakota, Colorado and Texas from its multi-building industrial campus at the southwest corner of 230th Avenue and Feedlot Road.

Each week, as many as 70 to 80 semi tractors pulling drop-deck trailers pull out of the yard as they haul oversized storage tanks and other equipment. The easiest route would be 230th Avenue, for accessing the on- and off-ramps to Interstate 70, said Hess. But instead the trucks take Feedlot Road, which although narrow, is paved with asphalt.

“That road is so narrow it’s not safe to run large trucks on it,” said Hess of 230th Avenue. Even vendors hauling in pipe have had to be pulled from the ditch, leaving them to complain about hauling in supplies, he said.

How long the situation will continue is anyone’s guess. But the Ellis County Commission at its regular meeting Monday set aside $800,000 to kick-start improvements to the unpaved portion of 230th Avenue.

Estimated to cost $4.38 million, improving 230th Avenue is part of a larger $15.7 million project, with $11.08 million of that considered priority.

The proposed Northwest Business Corridor Project would improve three heavily traveled county roads in that busy industrial area of Ellis County, as well as the intersection of 55th Street and 230th Avenue, near the on- and off-ramps to Interstate 70 that converge with 230th Avenue.

County Commissioner Dustin Roths said at Monday’s meeting the corridor project is critical for northwest Kansas.

“I think this is probably the most important project we’re looking at, by far, right now,” Roths said. “I’m happy to commit to it.”

Surfaced with limestone rock, 230th Avenue is an unpaved road running north of Interstate 70 west of Hays at Exit 157. South of I-70, 230th is the U.S. Highway 183 Bypass.

As it is now, trucks use the U.S. 183 Bypass and 230th Avenue in combination with Feedlot Road to go around Hays. The route allows trucks headed north or south on U.S. 183 to avoid traffic and traffic lights on Vine Street.

Recent traffic counts, said a brief on the project to the Ellis County Commission, indicates higher daily use of the Northwest Business Corridor than other county road planned for improvements.

“We’ve experienced significant business development in that corridor over the last few years,” said County Administrator Phillip Smith-Hanes at the meeting, citing Midwest Energy’s Goodman Energy Center, Celebration Community Church, Hess Services, Pertl Ranch Feeders feedlot and M&D Excavating.

“The values of the properties along that stretch of 230th Avenue increased by over $25 million in a seven-year period,” he said.

And there’s more to come, Hess said. Hess Services is working with a developer to build a truck travel plaza at Exit 157. Besides a truck stop, the planned 10-acre development will include pads for restaurant and retail development as well. Hess is hopeful the developer can start turning dirt by Spring.

“At the present time, we believe that the 230th and 55th intersection will likely get annexed into the city of Hays in the near future, and any development there,” Smith-Hanes told the Ellis County Commission. “So that would move off of the county’s responsibility and we could more specifically address the unpaved portion of 230th.”

Assistant City Manager Jacob Wood acknowledged that a Topeka developer has submitted an application and the city has seen a preliminary site plan. At this time, however, an annexation request hasn’t been filed, which is needed to extend city water and sewer to the site.

With their $800,000 commitment, Ellis County staff can now look for other sources of funding.

“The thought is that we would then take this commission-approved amount out and shop it to some grant-funding agencies, including first approaching some private foundations and then looking to the state of Kansas as well,” said Smith-Hanes at the commission meeting.

Hess Services also can support the effort, Hess said.

“We definitely have offered to assist in the construction phase of that project,” he said. “We have heavy equipment that is ideal for moving dirt.”

The project is one that should rise to the top of the county’s list, said Smith-Hanes. According to the commission briefing, recent traffic counts indicate higher daily use of the corridor than other routes planned for improvements.

“I do believe this is a very important project, and we do have to take some action to get something started on these roads,” said County Commissioner Butch Schlyer on Monday evening.

Other parts of the project include improving Feedlot Road from 230th Avenue to U.S. Highway 183, for $5.02 million, and improving the intersection of 230th Avenue and 55th Street, for $1.69 million.

The $800,000 is money the county already has on hand in Fund 78, the Special Road and Bridge Fund, which has a balance of $1.66 million. The county has a number of projects that could exhaust that money, said the briefing paper.

“This action would reduce the amount of funding available for other road projects, including cold-in-place recycling, diamond grinding on Old Highway 40 between Victoria and Walker, and bridge replacements,” said the agenda information.

County and city officials on Friday are scheduled to tour the Northwest Business Corridor with 111th District Rep. Barb Wasinger and 110th District Rep. Ken Rahjes. They are hosting Kansas Commerce Secretary David Toland and Dep. Secretary of Transportation Lindsay Douglas to meet with business leaders at Midwest Energy and Hess Services.

Smith-Hanes on Thursday outlined to the commissioners the considerations of Midwest Energy around the project: a preference for right-of-way acquisition on the west side of the road to avoid Midwest Energy’s substation on the east side of the road; whether the future embankment cut would require Midwest Energy to relocate the poles that support the high-power transmission lines there; whether relocation of the gas line there would be required; and the relocation of a rural water district water line in the area.

With $75 million in annual revenue, Hess Services paid nearly $1 million in local property tax in 2018, said Hess, and is aggressively hiring.

Besides being a safety issue, the existing road situation is a disruption to business, Hess said.

“We would definitely be looking at expanding,” he said. “The road improvements would definitely help not just our business but others out here.”