State leaders break ground on new solar farm welcome center on I-40

HAYWOOD COUNTY, Tenn. — Drivers along Interstate 40 soon will have another place to stop while traveling on the highway.

Screen Shot 2016-10-31 at 1.19.26 PM“Christmas has now arrived in Haywood County,” County Mayor Franklin Smith said.

After five years of waiting, the groundbreaking for the new I-40 Solar Farm Information and Welcome Center finally happened Monday morning.

“TDOT’s happy we’re able to partner with tourism, partner with the county and all officials to see this project delivered, and we look forward to it being a successful project,” Tennessee Department of Transportation Region 4 Director Jason Baker said.

County Mayor Smith said the center was taken out of the state budget in 2011. “Budget problems and other things kind of put it on the back shelf, and now it’s being brought out front again,” Smith said.

The project is expected to cost $3.2 million. TDOT officials said 80 percent of the funds come from the federal government along with a 20 percent match from TDOT.

The welcome center will have an educational component on alternative solar energy. The project director for the West Tennessee Solar Farm, Elliott Barnett, said there will be a museum exhibit inside the center.

“The mission of the solar farm is twofold, to education and research, and that’s why we chose here — to be very visible, to increase the awareness throughout the state,” Barnett said.

Commissioner Kevin Triplett of the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development said this will be a positive addition for the state.

“These centers are automatic draws for people who are traveling with families who want a good, clean, safe place to stop,” Triplett said.

TDOT said the project is expected to be complete by fall of 2017.