A welcome center construction project on I-65 — spanning 11,304 square feet and retailing at $34.8 million — may just include the fanciest rest stop Indiana’s ever had.
The planned Kankakee Welcome Center, sandwiched between the Kankakee River and Roselawn in Northwest Indiana, is characterized by its modern design with a wavy roof meant to represent the dunes of the Region. Built around natural wetlands, the center includes a large retention pond with a walkway and will feature murals and interactive displays.
The center can be accessed on I-65 south, while another rest stop — included in the nearly $35 million contract with Hasse Construction — is accessible going north on I-65. After breaking ground in August of 2021, the Indiana Department of Transportation told the Capital Chronicle they expect Kankakee to be completed this September.
Cassy Bajek, public relations director for INDOT’s northwest district, said the Kankakee center will be the largest scale and most expensive welcome center in the state when complete.
The project is part of a 10-year plan from INDOT to update 21 interstate rest areas by 2030. INDOT only operates 26 rest areas, meaning the project will transform of the state’s current network.
Bajek told the Capital Chronicle that the previous building at the Kankakee stop was about 40 years old, making it difficult to maintain. She said INDOT found people did not want to stop at rest areas in the past and made quick visits when they did. By improving these areas across the state, INDOT hopes to make the stop more of a destination, she said.
Although a heavy emphasis is placed on truck drivers through the trucker restroom facility and parking, Bajek said the centers are meant for everyone — even those who already live nearby.
“We’re really anticipating that it’s going to be for anyone and everyone that’s traveling on our roadways, who just want to get out and maybe learn something new about Indiana or in the region that they’re traveling through and just stretch their legs,” she said.
A unique part of the renovation plan includes designing welcome centers around the region they’re located in. For Kankakee, Northwest Indiana is evoked through dunes imagery and murals made from old wind turbines.
Another welcome center planned near Terre Haute — Clear Creek — is themed around Indiana’s racing history, particularly the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Black River Welcome Center in Posey County will feature an interactive Abraham Lincoln exhibit with a log cabin exterior, in addition to recreation opportunities like a playground and a dog park.
So far, only one welcome center has been completed according to Bajek. In October of 2020, INDOT cut the ribbon for a center in Steuben County with an emphasis on the region’s agricultural resources. In comparison to the Kankakee project, the Steuben County center covers 7,500 feet with a price tag of $4.4 million — more than $30 million less than Kankakee.
According to an INDOT press release, the Kankakee center will also be fully ADA compliant, energy efficient and will feature interactive displays. The displays will include monarch butterflies, a herd of buffalo, sandhill cranes and wind generation.
For truck drivers, renovations on both the south and northbound sides will create an additional 113 truck parking spaces for a total of 225, the press release said.
“This state-of-the-art facility will not only give visitors a taste of our Hoosier Hospitality, but also showcase all that Northwest Indiana has to offer,” Gov. Eric Holcomb said in the press release. “As we continue with plans to replace welcome centers at entry points to the state, we’re excited for each one to represent the personality and unique features of the region in which they are located.”
Caption: A birds-eye view of the under-construction Kankakee Welcome Center on I-65 South. (Screenshot from video by Elevated Imaging and AG Solutions LLC)
This story originally was published by the Indiana Capital Chronicle, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Indiana Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Follow Indiana Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.