“We look forward to this,” said Ellis County Public Works Director Bill Ring on Friday, one of many thanking Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran for $6.5 million in federal highway money to build a Northwest Business Corridor around Hays.
“We have a lot of what’s called superloads,” Ring told a crowd of city, state and county officials on hand at the Ellis County Administrative Center, 718 Main. “It’s a couple-of-hundred feet long and it weighs 567,000 pounds. There’s two of those came through last week.”
That’s the kind of traffic that will use the Northwest Business Corridor, a $10.8 million project that became a reality in early November when Ellis County got word it had won a U.S. Department of Transportation grant.
Friday’s ceremony was put together to formally mark the federal award and to thank Moran, who presented the Ellis County Commissioners with an oversized cardboard check facsimile from the DOT.
Commission Chair Dean Haselhorst, in his comments Friday, recalled the phone call from Moran in early November informing him Ellis County’s application had won the highly competitive BUILD grant.
“It just kind of shocked me at the time,” Haselhorst said, saying he got off the phone and told his wife, “I don’t know how Senator Moran does it, I said, but God Bless him, he brought another six-plus-million-dollars to Ellis County and western Kansas … I was just shocked that we got that grant.”
“Senator,” he said, addressing Moran in the audience, “I can’t thank you enough for all you’ve done for Ellis County, the city of Hays. It’s going to be very, very good for Ellis County.”
The money will improve three heavily traveled county roads in a busy industrial area of northwest Hays, including access to oilfield supply manufacturer Hess Services, a huge employer for the county.
“This is going to help all of Ellis County, all of western Kansas, and Hays,” said state legislator Barb Wasinger, 111th District representative, thanking Moran, as “Hays’ favorite son,” and others who worked to win the grant. “Thank you all,” Wasinger said.
She recalled the February bus trip earlier this year, which she arranged to bring Kansas Secretary of Commerce Dave Toland to see the precariously narrow and hilly chalk roads, with steep shoulders, in hopes of winning state support.
Toland, who was also present Friday, said the trip that February day was his first as a member of Gov. Laura Kelly’s new cabinet. His memory was of the big bus headed for Hess’s plant, crossing paths with a semi coming the opposite direction.
“We missed each other by inches,” Toland told the gathering, “and it demonstrated what a tremendous challenge this was, and we needed to do something about it.”
“The Department of Commerce is so pleased to provide modest support, in this case $300,000, to help put together this larger package that is essential to the growth of Hess, to Hays, to Ellis County,” he said.
Wasinger recalled when Toland agreed to the bus trip, and then telling her, “Barb I will get you money.”
“That was, I think, the beginning of the snowball,” she said, with Ellis County moving forward then to seek further funding.
Haselhorst thanked many in the audience for their support and efforts, including Hays City Commissioners Ron Mellick, Sandy Jacobs and Shaun Musil.
Buck Driggs, a project engineer with Driggs Design Group P.A., Manhattan, was hired to work on the grant with Ring and then-County Administrator Phillip Smith-Hanes. Driggs in his comments said a lot of people helped, citing 25 letters of support.
He mentioned the importance of the Corridor project to a $40 million commercial travel plaza, with dirt work now underway at the intersection of I-70 and 230th Avenue. Construction starts this spring.
“This bypass project will make all of that that much better,” he said.
In his comments, Moran noted the importance of the project to keeping Hess in Kansas.
“Barb Wasinger, Sandy Jacobs and others invited me to Hess to see what was transpiring in a part of the county I hadn’t seen in awhile,” Moran said. “I was surprised and amazed, pleased, delighted to see the economic activity that is occurring there and immediately could agree with those who were promoting the need for better transportation to and from, that they were absolutely right.”
He credited the county commissioners and Ring with winning the grant.
“It is the application, and not the politics, that made it successful,” he said. “Thank you for applying and thank you for submitting a project of great worth.”
Noting the money is taxpayer dollars, Moran said, “We’re responsible for how it gets spent, and we ought not do those things lightly or easily. This is a taxpayer check that I think is worthy of the project.”
Kansas Department of Transportation Area Engineer Kevin Zimmer cited collaboration of the city, county, state and federal governments.
As someone born and raised in Hays, Zimmer said, “I can definitely vouch for the value of this project.”
“We have been talking about this job for eight years? 10 years?” he said. “So now I can finally say I can move the concept papers off my desk and get down to the nitty, gritty of the plans.”
“As the senator said, this is taxpayer money,” said Zimmer, “and they will see a real nice improvement from this project.”