LUMBERTON — Major chances are coming for the Interstate 95 South Welcome Center located north of the border with South Carolina in southern Robeson County, according to a North Carolina Department of Transportation official.
But when asked, Jimmy Parrish, Rest Area Section supervisor, quickly dismissed rumors that the welcome center was to be torn down and moved to Fayetteville, and the site that now has a welcome center and rest area would become a rest area only.
“We’re not doing anything with Cumberland County,” Parrish said.
The site at mile marker five on Interstate 95 North is due for renovation, according to Parrish. The state has a program wherein each of the nine welcome centers, each near the state line, is renovated after a certain period of time.
The I-95 South Welcome Center opened on Nov. 21, 1973, and was last renovated in 2009, according to the N.C. Department of Commerce, which oversees the welcome centers. The NCDOT maintains them.
“It’s been there forever,” Parrish said.
There is another reason for the planned renovations, according to the section supervisor.
“We’re got some structural problems with the rest area building,” Parrish said.
The plan is to tear down the welcome center building and the rest area building, and build one building in which to house them both, according to Parrish.
“Our goal is to have it under construction in January 2022,” he said.
But, it could be sooner or it could be later, depending on how long it takes to get designs drawn and approved; a construction contract bid out and awarded; and other aspects of the project approved, according to Parrish. And putting a firm date on when anything happens is very difficult at this time because the plan is in a preliminary stage.
And there is a plan that involves the people who work at the welcome center/rest area.
The state Commerce Department has asked the NCDOT if it would be possible to place two or three of the personnel from the welcome center in Robeson County, maybe even on a rotating basis, in a rest area facility on I-95 North near the northern border of Cumberland County, according to Parrish. They would work while construction is underway at the I-95 South Welcome Center in an office in the vending building that sometimes is used by the North Carolina State Highway Patrol.
The renovation project is badly needed, said Sen. Danny Britt Jr., a Republican from Lumberton. And earlier plans had the upgrades not taking place until 2025.
“It’s going to look a lot better when the construction is finished,” said Britt, who had worked with NCDOT and the state Commerce Department to move up the renovation project.
According to the state Department of Commerce, North Carolina’s nine welcome centers promote tourism-related businesses to visitors already in the state actively seeking travel information. Each welcome center has a statewide focus, with an emphasis on providing information for visitors traveling a particular interstate corridor.
Each center’s nationally certified travel counselors:
Distribute the state’s Official North Carolina Travel Guide, the Department of Transportation’s official state map, and other marketing publications exclusively about North Carolina.
Offer detailed travel information.
Book room reservations at no charge for visitors staying overnight in North Carolina.
Welcome centers are open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. The centers are closed on New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Free Wi-Fi internet access is available at each center during regular business hours, according to the state Commerce Department.
Rest areas are different.
A rest area’s official purpose is to provide for safety and convenience, as stipulated in the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, which created the national interstate system. The act recognized that in some rural parts of the interstate system, opportunities to exit the highway would be few and far between. Occasional rest areas were necessary because highway shoulders were meant only for emergencies and vehicle breakdowns.