INDOT approved for $255M in funding for welcome center projects


By Alex Brown, Inside INdiana Business

The State Budget Committee on Tuesday approved more than $255 million in funding for the Indiana Department of Transportation to support six welcome center renovation projects.

The projects are part of INDOT’s Rest Area & Welcome Center Improvement Plan, which will ultimately improve 21 rest area and welcome centers across the state over the next 10 years.

The state was awarded $600 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation for the effort, and the funding approved by the State Budget Committee comes from that allocation.

The latest funding will support welcome center projects at Kankakee, Lebanon, Clear Creek, Black River, Centerville and Pigeon Creek.

The Pigeon Creek Welcome Center, located about 45 miles north of Fort Wayne, opened in 2020. As part of the improvement plan, INDOT completed a parking reconfiguration project in Fiscal Year 2022.

The $40 million replacement of the Kankakee Welcome Center in Jasper County was completed last October. Meanwhile, work on the Clear Creek Welcome Center in Terre Haute and the Black River Welcome Center in Posey County is underway and expected to be completed next year.

During Tuesday’s meeting, State Sen. Chris Garten, R-Charlestown, questioned why the state is spending an average of about $42 million on the welcome center improvements.

“That seems like a lot for a welcome center,” Garten said. “I’m not suggesting that these don’t need to be updated or even reconstructed. But $42 million a piece on average is a heck of a welcome center. You can build a world-class facility for $42 million.”

Joe Gustin, chief financial officer for INDOT, noted that the majority of the cost for each project is for pavement.

“[At] Kankakee, we constructed 150 truck spots. Each struck spot is $45,000,” Gustin said. “The buildings are about $11-$12 million, and then there’s a lot of site amenities that we have as well because we are trying to turn these into destinations.”

Each new welcome center has its own theme highlighting some part of Indiana’s history. The Kankakee center spotlights the northwest Indiana region’s commitment to wind energy. The Clear Creek center will highlight Indiana’s motorsports history in partnership with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

INDOT is also focusing on adding amenities such as children’s play areas and adult recreation areas to make the centers more attractive.

Additionally, when the entire project is complete, INDOT will have added 1,200 semitrailer parking spaces to the 1,400 that currently exist, which Gustin said would address a lot of issues, namely those related to safety.

“We are getting accolades from Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for the work we’re doing, adding all of these heavy duty truck parking spaces,” he said. “Anyone that can travel the interstates at night or early in the morning will see all of these semis lined up on the ramps, and adding 1,200 additional spots will will help alleviate that safety situation.”

Ultimately, INDOT aims to improve 21 rest area and welcome centers across the state by the end of FY 2034.