Ellis County commissioners have hired Driggs Design Group P.A., of Manhattan, as the engineering firm they hope can help win the county money for its Northwest Business Corridor project.

The commissioners Monday evening at their regular meeting approved the contract with Driggs for $113,130.

Driggs was chosen from five firms that responded to a request for proposals.

County Administrator Phillip Smith-Hanes said that during interviews, Driggs brought the best knowledge of Ellis County’s specific aims.

“It was a unanimous decision among the group of folks in the interview,” Smith-Hanes told the county commissioners, noting that Public Works director Bill Ring was among them.

“I think that this is a good start,” said Commissioner Dustin Roths. “Do you feel confident with these guys, as far as helping us line this up so we know how to fund it?”

“Yes, I do,” said Smith-Hanes. “Mr. Driggs had the most creative ideas of the firms that we talked to.”

The county plans to apply for a U.S. Department of Transportation BUILD discretionary grant. The federal money is for investments in surface transportation infrastructure to better connect rural and urban communities.

USDOT announced it has $900 million for 2019 available.

“To reflect the Administration’s ongoing effort to rebalance past under-investment in rural America, DOT intends to award up to 50 percent of BUILD Transportation grant funding to projects located in rural areas that align well with the selection criteria,” according to a news release from the department.

One of those criteria is to facilitate economic growth or competitiveness. No single state can get more than $90 million. The deadline is July 15.

Smith-Hanes said Driggs is already working on the BUILD grant.

“He was one of the folks in getting us funding back in 2013 on the intersection process,” Smith-Hanes said. “He’s got a good track record, very willing to work with staff. I’m not confident we’ll succeed with the federal grant, but I think we’ll have as good a shot with this firm as we do with anyone.”

Driggs, which also does work for the City of Hays, has an office at 2027 Downing Ave.

The proposed $11 million Northwest Business Corridor north and west of Hays 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. Among the businesses, oilfield supply manufacturer Hess services has 360 employees and a steady stream of semitrailer rigs hauling equipment to and from North Dakota, Colorado and Texas on the narrow chalk roads as they are now.

Commissioner Dean Haselhorst asked if Driggs is also the engineer on a planned travel plaza at the I-70 intersection.

“The Driggs firm has worked with literally every business that’s out there on the corridor at one time or another or in one form or another,” Smith-Hanes said. The contract with Driggs aims to protect the county’s interests while maximizing Driggs experience there, he said.

“We want to make sure that our contract is serving county interests and not the interests of other folks out there, because this is a county road,” Smith-Hanes said. “He does have the ear of several stakeholders in the process, so it facilitates us moving forward.”

Haselhorst also asked about any word from Kansas Chamber president and CEO Alan Cobb, who has said he’ll push for the county’s case to Secretary of Commerce David Toland and Secretary of Transportation Julie Lorenz.

“I know that they are trying to work on the commerce secretary to see if we can get funds out of that part of state government,” Roths said. “I know that he has begun the process of going to bat for us on that.”