New Whitley County Welcome Center open to visitors

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – A new welcome center is open in southeastern Kentucky at mile marker 1.5 in Whitley County off I-75 North.

In response to the spread of COVID-19, federal and state public health officials advised that travel should be limited throughout the nation to slow the spread of COVID-19. As Kentucky continues its fight to defeat the virus, state officials have remained committed to ensuring travel and tourism can safely resume in the commonwealth.

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Once travel can safely resume across the nation, the welcome center in Whitley County will serve as a major point of entry for tourists traveling north into Kentucky from Tennessee, and a thoroughfare for commercial drivers passing through the Bluegrass State.

“As we remain diligent in our fight to defeat COVID-19, our administration continues to work tirelessly to ensure travel can safely resume in the commonwealth,” Gov. Andy Beshear said in making the announcement. “This new, modern facility will provide the nearly 30,000 vehicles per day that cross into the southern portion of I-75 a safe, welcoming first impression as travelers enter the commonwealth.”

Construction of the new facility is a collaborative effort between the TransportationCabinet,Finance and Administration Cabinet, and Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet.

The Finance Cabinet oversaw the construction of the new ADA facility, while the Transportation Cabinet will manage the day-to-day operations, and tourism employees will provide staffing for the center.

The construction of the welcome center was funded with 80 percent federal funds and a 20 percent state match.D.W. Wilburn of Lexington was awarded the $5.5 million contract to design and build the new welcome center, which is similar in design to one located in Shelby County on I-64 East.

The new centers design is ADA compliant and includes enhanced safety features, such as high mast lighting at entrance and exit ramps, as well as parking areas.

The exterior features rail fencing, ample bench seating and family-friendly picnic areas. Inside, numerous TV screens will feature videos highlighting Kentucky’s famed tourist attractions and lush natural scenery.

“The facade of this new welcome center is not only visually appealing, the facility is also very efficient,” said Finance and Administration Cabinet Secretary Johnson. “An energy recovery ventilator improves indoor air quality while decreasing energy expenses. High-efficiency plumbing fixtures and LED lighting also help reduce recurring operational costs, saving taxpayer dollars.”

Kentucky’s ideal geographic location puts it at the confluence of the Northeast, Midwest and South, giving it proximity to key populations, and centers of industry and commerce. Although COVID-19 has limited travel throughout the country, commercial drivers continue to transport essential goods nationwide through our highly developed logistics and distribution infrastructure.

The new Whitley County center features expanded truck parking, which allow commercial drivers to rest in a safe location instead of stopping on ramps or shoulders. Increased restroom capacity and improved vending amenities are also sure to be appreciated by road-weary travelers.

This welcome center offers travelers a safe, inviting place to stop, rest and relax a while, said Transportation Cabinet Secretary Gray. Its been a collaborative effort on the part of our cabinets and the Federal Highway Administration, and it will provide many years of service to the traveling public.

As one of the state’s largest economic factors, Kentucky tourism is an $11.8 billion industry in the commonwealth and serves as a mechanism for helping stimulate the economy in local communities. The Whitley County welcome center will serve as a gateway to some of the most popular tourism destinations in southeastern Kentucky including Cumberland Falls, Lake Cumberland and Big South Fork.

“Welcome centers often times serve as our first touchpoint with guests who are traveling through Kentucky,” said Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet Secretary Mike Berry. “The opening of the new welcome center creates an opportunity for Whitley County and the southeastern Kentucky region to benefit from the revenue generated by tourism and travel spending in the commonwealth.”

The new Whitley County welcome center replaces a 1971 rest area that had deteriorated and was frequently closed to the public for costly maintenance and repairs. The center is expected to welcome nearly 70,000 80,000 visitors annually.

For travelers planning a Kentucky getaway, discover the Bluegrass State by downloading theKentucky Official Visitors Guide. Travelers are encouraged to follow all public health safety guidelines including Red Zone Reduction Recommendations.

For a list of welcome centers in Kentucky, visit kentuckytourism.com. To learn more about the Whitley County welcome center, visithttps://youtu.be/2fdmVe401rU.