Sen. Aaron Bean wants Florida highway approaches to be “memorable experience”

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“Welcome to Florida” is not nearly welcoming enough to the nearly 45 million visitors entering the state by car every year, according to state Sen. Aaron Bean.

“We’ve got a little piddly sign and we junk it all up,” the Fernandina Beach Republican told Dara Kam of the News Service of Florida. “It doesn’t give a welcoming entrance.”

Bean is trying to make the approach to Florida a “memorable experience” with the help of the Florida Department of Transportation.

By 2015, drivers entering Florida on Interstate 95 and Interstate 75 will see magnificent archways, towering palm trees and tropical-like foliage. Interstate 10 at the Florida-Alabama line will see similar signage, according to the FDOT.

Twin 30-foot-high towers will connect to a 40-foot-wide mock-cable suspension bridge emblazoned with “Florida Welcomes You” and a large rising orange sun on the southbound side. “Thank You for Visiting Florida” will greet drivers as they head north.

Also proposed is a different bridge with the words “The Sunshine State” crossing Interstate 75 farther south.

“It was a humongous idea,” said FDOT Secretary Greg Evans, whose District 2 is an 18-county area that includes the two Georgia border crossings where new signage will be located.

The agency was already exploring a plan for more eye-catching signs along the state lines when Bean proposed the idea, Evans said.

Bean promised to secure funding for the projects, but instead Evans found $2.8 million in his budget for the towers. Construction will start this fall.

The idea came to Bean as he was driving into South Carolina, Kam writes.

“It’s extremely stately,” he said. “You know you’re in South Carolina. They’ve got the flag pole. They’ve got huge gates on the side. You come in, you go, ‘Wow, we’re in South Carolina.’ There’s no other sign. It’s just boom.”

Florida is the most popular destination for travelers by car in the U.S. Bean wants visitors to be impressed when they arrive.

In the attempt to break Florida’s record-setting 90 million visitors last year, Evans said the signs would be part of the movement to reach 100 million visitors, about half arriving by car, motorcycle or other type of vehicle.

“We want to go out and brand Florida,” he said. “We are a gateway for millions of visitors each year. We wanted to have the concept that when you arrived in Florida, you knew you were in Florida.”

To keep from “junking up” the approach to the Sunshine State, Bean’s proposal includes a 100-foot buffer zone to keep other signs from competing with the entryway, such as notices to wear seat belts, texting while driving is illegal, or that drivers may be under surveillance from patrols by air. Evans told the News Service either federal or state law requires many of those signs.

“With the investment we’re making in this gateway, visibility is a very high priority with us,” he added. “Those signs will not impact the view of the gateway.”

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.