State replacing blue welcome signs along interstates.


NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. -- People driving in and out of Florida will notice something different by early 2015.

The state is planning to spend about $3 million on installing new gateway welcome signs at multiple locations along the Florida border.

Currently, drivers coming into Florida are greeted with tall blue signs on the side of the interstate that say "Welcome to Florida" and "The Sunshine State."

According to Gina Busscher, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Transportation, those signs have become "cluttered" with other signage and appear dated compared to other states.

"We've been looking to improve our border for about a decade," she said. "There has some sort of signage up probably since the '60's."

Busscher said designers looked at gateway signs in Ohio, New Mexico, Minnesota and South Carolina for inspiration. She said it wasn't until last year plans became more formalized.

"We just need something more dramatic," she said.

Replacing the blue signs along I-95 in Nassau County will be two 30 feet high towers connected by a 40 feet long mock suspension bridge.

One side will say "Florida Welcomes You" while another side says "Thank You for Visiting Florida." Additional signage like seat belt and safety reminders will be moved farther away.

Similar signs are planned for border locations along Interstates 75 and 10. Busscher said because there's an existing overpass at the border on I-75, that gateway sign will physically extend over the roadway.

The hope, Busscher said, is the change will make a stronger impression on the millions of people who visit Florida each year. In 2012, state tourism officials reported a record 91 million visitors.

But some of those people don't think this plan is worth the price tag.

First Coast News showed several tourists the renderings for the proposed signage at the Florida Welcome Center in Nassau County.

Deb McGregor from Canada said, "...that ($3 million) sounds really high to me. I don't think it's worth it. I think there's probably better places to spend the money. Education. Health care. That kind of thing."

John Strassenreiter from New York said, "That's a lot for a welcome sign. I'd rather see them put that kind of money into education. I'm a retired teacher. If it came down to it, that's a lot of money."

Busscher said FDOT has heard no negative feedback about spending the money. She said the funding is available in the agency's budget.

Bids, she said, are expected to go out this summer. Construction could start as early as the fall with a target completion date of early 2015.