Ellis County Administrator Phillip Smith-Hanes says “Keep your fingers crossed,” as county and business leaders wait to find out if Dane G. Hansen Foundation will fund a $2.2 million grant request from Ellis County.

The grant, if approved, would transform busy 230th Avenue north of Hays from a dangerously steep and narrow hilly rock road, bustling with semi-tractor trailer rigs, to a well-engineered two-lane paved route with shoulders, referred to as the Northwest Business Corridor.

Ellis County submitted its grant application in March.

“Typically they have a 30-day turnaround when they make their decisions, so we’re hoping to hear something this month,” said Smith-Hanes.

Rep. Barb Wasinger, who represents Ellis County’s 111th District in the state House of Representatives, announced Thursday that the Kansas Department of Transportation has pledged to match $1 million in funding for the corridor, contingent on approval of the Hansen Foundation grant.

If approved, the grant might be a rare one for the Logan-based foundation.

“My understanding is they’ve done a few infrastructure projects,” Smith-Hanes said, “but if they approve it, it would be by far the largest one of that kind.”

Applications are due the 25th of each month and are then addressed the following month, said Betsy Wearing, a spokesperson for Hansen.

“If they applied in March, then they’ll hear from us at the end of April,” Wearing said. “It’ll be sometime after the Trustees meet the third or fourth week of the month.”

The proposed Northwest Business Corridor Project would improve three heavily traveled county roads in a busy industrial area, as well as the Exit 157 intersection where on- and off-ramps to Interstate 70 converge with 230th Avenue.

Surfaced with limestone, 230th Avenue is an unpaved road running north and south of I-70 west of Hays at Exit 157. South of I-70, 230th becomes the U.S. Highway 183 Bypass. Trucks use the Bypass and 230th Avenue in combination with Feedlot Road to circumvent Hays traffic when enroute north or south on U.S. 183.

Traffic counts indicate higher daily use of the Northwest Business Corridor than other county roads planned for improvements.

In February, Wasinger and 110th District Rep. Ken Rahjes led a group of lawmakers and state highway and commerce officials on a tour of the corridor, including meetings with Midwest Energy and oilfield supply manufacturer Hess Services, which employs 360 people at its plants accessed via 230th Avenue.

The Wasinger press release announcing the KDOT matching money quoted Dep. Secretary of Transportation Lindsay Douglas saying, “I appreciate the ongoing dialogue regarding the Northwest Business Corridor in Ellis County. Investments in the corridor will pay dividends by providing more efficient access to jobs.”

Douglas said the corridor would enhance freight connectivity and provide better access to regional markets and beyond.

Ellis County Commissioners in February set aside $800,000 for the Northwest Business Corridor. The county is proposing a four-phase construction plan for the $11 million project, commencing with a new concrete box culvert on 230th Avenue at a cost of $200,000. That project is already scheduled to start sometime after June 30 this year, Smith-Hanes said, and will take a month to six weeks.

Phase 2 is the design and paving of the unpaved portion of 230th Avenue from Celebration Church north to Feedlot Road, estimated to cost $4.375 million. The county has already begun talks with landowners for right of way, which must be extended from the current 60- to 65-feet, to 90- to 100-feet, he said. The county’s already entered an agreement with Fort Hays State University on some of their land, and is talking now with Midwest Energy.

If the county is awarded both the Hansen grant and the KDOT money, how long until there’s pavement?

“Best case scenario, we’re probably looking at late summer of 2020,” said Smith-Hanes.

Phase 3 calls for intersection improvements at 55th Street and 230th Avenue, related to a planned travel plaza development serving that intersection with Interstate 70.

Phase 4 would be the design and paving of Feedlot Road, estimated at just over $5 million.

“So we would seek some other funds for that, maybe federal money,” said Smith-Hanes, noting he’s been meeting with the Kansas Department of Commerce, which has access to federal funds.