State gives welcome centers $23 million for upgrade

November 02, 2006

FREDERICK, Md. - Gov. Robert Ehrlich announced that Maryland will invest $23 million to upgrade the South Mountain Welcome Centers along eastbound and westbound Interstate 70 in Frederick County.

The centers, which were built in the 1970s and are maintained by Maryland's State Highway Administration and the Maryland Office of Tourism Development, are used by more than 200,000 travelers each year. There are 13 such centers in Maryland.

When the renovation is completed, the South Mountain centers "will become a destination in themselves, with outdoor exhibit areas, expanded facilities and parking, and the latest in wireless technology to serve both tourists and business travelers," Ehrlich said.

According to a news release from the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, highlights of the project include separate lanes for vehicles, trucks and buses, increased parking areas, and expanded and improved buildings.


When completed, the 3,600-square-foot buildings will have exterior exhibit areas showcasing some of the region's notable attractions for travelers going both east and west, the local organization said. There will also be improved vending, play areas, picnic tables and an area for dog walking.

The buildings are to be equipped with flat screen televisions that "will feature promotional videos and travel information, and a media room where travelers will have hi-speed wireless Internet access," according to the press release.

The buildings "also will be environmentally friendly with energy-efficient lighting, water-saving devices and upgraded sewer systems."

Dennis Castleman, assistant secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, said all of the state's welcome centers are going to be updated with technology.

He said the centers are "critically important" for the tourism industries in Washington and Frederick counties.

Tom Riford, president of the local convention and visitors bureau, said there will be 76 more parking spaces for cars, 26 more for commercial trucks and 6 more for RVs - encouraging more travelers to explore the centers "and to find out more about our area."

He said construction is to begin in the summer of 2008 and, weather permitting, be completed in the fall of 2009. The facilities will be closed during construction.

"The location of a temporary Welcome Center in our area is being discussed," Riford said.

He said state data shows visitors spend more than $187 million a year in Washington County. He said it shows the leisure and hospitality industry employs more than 5,700 people in the county.

Riford said funding for the new centers is possible in part through Maryland's Transportation Enhancement Program, which has awarded $140 million in project funds since 1991.

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