JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Visitors entering the Sunshine State will soon see a new "welcome" sign.
By fall 2015, visitors will see a 30-foot sign in the shape of a bridge that reads, "Florida Welcomes You."
"We love coming to Florida, so we get really excited when we see the welcome signs. It's a big deal," said visitor Michelle Casto. "We all cheered and yelled, and they've been asking for 30 miles, 'Are we in Florida yet? Are we in Florida yet?' So when we saw it, they were very excited, so I guess having a bigger one would be more fun."
The plans include similar signs along Florida interstates I-10 and I-75, including a sign that says "The Sunshine State" on the I-75 overpass. When visitors head back north they'll see a sign reading, "Thank You for Visiting Florida" (pictured, below).
Florida Sen. Aaron Bean helped spark the idea, and the Department of Transportation jumped on board.
"Our No. 1 industry is tourism, so we've got to welcome visitors to our state with open arms," Bean said. "This is just a very small amount of money that will hopefully pay big dividends in the future."
The total cost to design, maintain and install all the signs, which will be surrounded by a quarter-mile of tropical landscape, is $2.8 million. Bean said the money is coming out of existing funds DOT had already set aside to build and maintain roads.
Part of the money is also coming from the 10 percent tourism increase state leaders are expecting this year. Florida leaders are hoping to hit the record this year with 100 million annual visits to the state.
Nearly half the people who visit Florida come by car, so when they get to the state, leaders want to make sure they know they're welcome.
Many visitors like the idea of a new sign.
"I always look forward to seeing it. I don't miss it. Another one, I don't think, would hurt," said Ken Eshleman, who is visiting from Pennsylvania.
"I like it when you come into a place, whether it's Florida or another state, and there's a sign that says 'Welcome,'" said Skip Rooney, who is visiting from Connecticut. "It's kind of like when you walk into someone's home and you say, 'Welcome, come on in,' As opposed to a sign on the side of the road saying, 'You're now in Florida.' It's a nicer thing, and it's nice to say 'goodbye,' too."
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