State agencies announced on Jan. 1 that the Simpson County Welcome Center will be closed as of Jan. 2 for demolition and reconstruction on the facility to be completed by the fall of 2020.
"Our welcome centers are often the first impression travelers have of our beautiful state and we want to ensure they are safe and accessible to all our visitors," said Holly McCoy-Johnson, secretary of the Finance and Administration Cabinet.
Wes Watt, public information officer for Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, said they started moving all the old items out of the building on Jan. 2 with demolition starting on Jan. 7. Plans are for the construction to be completed by late fall or early winter to take advantage of the best weather months.
The center was built in 1974 at the 0 mile-marker on I-65 in southern Kentucky. The center has received frequent minor repairs and maintenance, but no major upgrades since it was built.
The facility is being rebuilt for both asthetic and maintenance reasons, according to Watt. Repairing issues were costing a lot of money on a weekly basis, he added.
According to a press release, rebuilding the center will bring it into ADA compliance, increase safety features, add more bathrooms and improve vending amenities. It will also add high mast lighting for ramps and parking areas will be added as well as more commercial truck parking.
"Additional commercial truck parking will provide a safer alternative to parking along ramps or shoulders due to limited spaces," Jim Gray, secretary of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet said in thne release.
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"Improving the condition of this welcome center ensures travelers have a safe and positive experience when crossing through the Commonwealth."
After the center is completed, the building will be similar to the rest areas in Hart County and will feature horse statues, fences, improved signage and TV screens in the lobby to showcase many of Kentucky's tourist attractions.
Watt said this center will be fairly similar to other welcome centers along I-65 for cohesiveness, but there will be differences due to location and the community.
The design-build contract was awarded to Churchill McGee LLC of Lexington for the $4.4 million project, which is funded with 80 percent federal funds and 20 percent state matched funds, according to the press release. During construction, digital signs will advise the general public of the closure, as well as indicate limited access for commercial trucks.