Is That Bridge For Sale? An Innovative Way to Fund Transportation Projects

Brooklyn_BridgeThe bridge itself might not be for sale but the naming rights to bridges, roads and highways are for sale in Virginia and Ohio. In a move intended to help close the gap in budget shortfalls both states have begun implementing measures to seek sponsorships from private organizations. New Hampshire state lawmakers will discuss creating a committee this year to determine if selling off naming rights would be a viable option to generate revenue.

In Virginia, guidelines are still being drafted for the program even though the law allowing for the sale of naming rights took effect on July 1, 2012. There has been some ground rules as far as naming goes. Both the House and Senate bills that were passed state that, “no name shall be eligible for the naming rights under this subdivision if it in any way reasonably connotes anything that (i) is profane, obscene, or vulgar; (ii) is sexually explicit or graphic; (iii) is excretory related; (iv) is descriptive of intimate body parts or genitals; (v) is descriptive of illegal activities or substances; (vi) condones or encourages violence; or (vii) is socially, racially, or ethnically offensive or disparaging.”

Another caveat in the naming process states that facilities previously named by the General Assembly cannot be renamed unless the private entity incorporates the previous name. For example the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel couldn’t become the Big Mac Bridge-Tunnel but it could become the McDonald’s Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel.

Prices and eligible infrastructures are still being determined. Cost will probably be based on location and type of road and could start as low as $5,000 a year. Despite the uncertainty, Virginia already has their first potential customer with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) stating they would like to buy the rights to Spay Today Way.

The Ohio DOT believes it can generate $15 million a year through naming rights and sponsorships for roads and bridges. The Ohio DOT has contracted with The Superlative Group out of Cleveland, OH to implement this phase of their Sponsorship, Maintenance, and Advertising Revenue Targeted (SMART) program. Revenue generated through naming rights would be earmarked for maintenance and improvements to the sponsored road, bridge or interchange. This way the money being paid to name Target Boulevard wouldn’t go to patching the potholes on Wal-Mart Way. This will also be the case in Virginia where the funds will be deposited into the Highway Maintenance & Operating Fund and used as needed.

This is definitely a novel way to fund much needed transportation projects and create some jobs through the extra roadwork projects. They could even expand the program and allow construction companies to gain naming rights through in-kind services like repaving and maintaining roads and bridges. Or they could publicly bid out the construction work and allow the low bidder the option to obtain the naming rights by reducing their bid equal to the cost for the naming rights. On the other hand let’s say a general contractor that specializes in heavy and highway projects pays for the naming rights to sponsor a road. A few months later public bids are taken for repaving of the road and the company that owns the naming rights bids on the project but isn’t the low bidder and isn’t awarded the contract, would they still want to sponsor the road even though a competitor was doing the work?

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