Renovations have begun on Big Piney Rest Area to transform it into the first Arkansas Tourist Information Center.
The rest area, located between Knoxville and London on Interstate 40 (near the Pope and Johnson County lines), closed last week and is targeted to reopen in mid-2017, according to the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation officials.
The $3.6 million project will include demolition of the existing restrooms and construction of larger buildings to accommodate a greater number of restroom facilities that meet the latest Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, are more family friendly, featuring baby changing stations and limited public wi-fi access on eastbound and westbound sides of the Interstate.
Unlike the Department’s 13 Welcome Centers, the new Tourist Information Centers will be unmanned, equipped instead with self-service kiosks that feature the AHTD’s travel and construction information site, IDriveArkansas.com. Additional kiosks will provide weather conditions and forecasts as well as information about local amenities to include attractions, dining, lodging, and more.
The Welcome Centers are a cooperative effort between AHTD, which builds and maintains the centers, the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, which staffs the centers with travel consultants, and the Governor’s Office. They are strategically placed along highways and Interstates which serve as major points of entry to Arkansas.
Transformation of the Big Piney facility is the first among several Rest Areas that will become unmanned Tourist Information Centers in the interior of the state. Later this spring, the White River and Social Hill Rest Areas are scheduled to undergo the same conversion. Additionally, the Arkansas Welcome Centers in Harrison and at the Red River (U.S. 71 in Little River County) will be replaced with new facilities.
The Big Piney Rest Area was originally constructed in 1991.