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Virginia Legislates Selling Naming Rights for Its Roads

Fri December 14, 2012 - Southeast Edition
Lori Lovely

In an attempt to generate revenue, the Commonwealth of Virginia recently passed legislation including a novel provision allowing the state to sell naming rights on transportation infrastructure.
In an attempt to generate revenue, the Commonwealth of Virginia recently passed legislation including a novel provision allowing the state to sell naming rights on transportation infrastructure.

Commuters in Virginia may see new names on familiar roads and bridges next year. In an attempt to generate revenue, the Commonwealth of Virginia recently passed legislation including a novel provision allowing the state to sell naming rights on transportation infrastructure.

It’s all about revenue, stated Tamara Rollison, communications director of the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT). Facing increasing maintenance fees and dwindling revenue, Virginia threw its support behind Gov. Bob McDonnell’s transportation initiative in this year’s General Assembly, hoping the measure will generate tens of millions of dollars for roads. According to reports, the Virginia Center for Transportation Innovation and Research estimates potential earnings of $27.3 million in the first five years and $273 million over 20 years from this plan.

“It’s a new thing,” indicated Rollison, who said she doesn’t know of another state with similar legislation. “We think it’s an innovation. It’s definitely new territory for DOTs and for us. Now the question is, where do we start?”

It starts with outlining the procedure. Expected to go into effect in July, the program is still being defined.

“We’re in the process of developing guidelines and a plan to administer it,” Rollison explained.

Initial projections indicate prices ranging from $5,000 to $200,000, depending on location, although which specific roads and bridges will be included has yet to be determined.

“Pricing depends on location and traffic volume,” Rollison elaborated. “Busy urban areas and high-traffic areas will cost more.”

What’s In a Name

Prices in high-traffic areas will be higher because of increased exposure. However, Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, who opposed the bill, not only doubts the plan will raise a significant amount of money, but told the media, “People aren’t going to spend millions of dollars to put their name on a bridge and be associated with congestion.”

One organization has already proven her wrong. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) expressed interest, hoping to name some Virginia road “Spay Today Way.”

“It was an irresistible opportunity to get every commuter’s attention to the homeless animals crisis in a way that would make motorists smile and perhaps think, ’Actually, I do need to call and get Daisy fixed,’” said PETA President and co-founder Ingrid Newkirk.

PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman believes, “I think it’s something so basic that everyone who cares about animals can agree on. It’s not sexy. It’s not provocative. It’s just about the health and safety of animals.”

“We batted about a lot of names, but this was our office favorite because it’s simple, clear and fits with a roadway,” Newkirk added. “PETA believes that ’Spay Today Way’ would be a fun way to remind motorists about the lifesaving benefits of spaying and neutering dogs and cats and about their responsibility to have their own companion animals sterilized.”

Of the eight million animals entering shelters every year, approximately half are euthanized due to the lack of homes.

“Every kind person in the world aches to see perfectly healthy dogs and cats put down,” Newkirk stated, “but the fact is finding a home for this one here and that one there doesn’t ’fix’ the problem: it has to be cut off at the pass by spaying and neutering them so that we stop having litters of unwanted puppies and kittens filling our nation’s shelters and pounds.”

Rules of the Road

In addition to roadways, bridges, tunnels and a ferry also may become available for naming. Also potentially available are ad space on 511 transportation information signs and safety service patrol trucks and banners on the web site. In the future, it could be expanded to rest areas and welcome centers.

“That’s not part of this legislation,” Rollison explained, “but it’s under consideration. We are looking at all assets for potential advertising.”

Wherever the advertising is placed, it cannot contain any profanity, obscenity, vulgarity, sexually explicit or racially offensive message. Nor can it condone violence. In addition, all signage must comply with Federal Highway Administration regulations regarding consistent signage.

“Motorists have to be able to read it without it being a safety hazard,” Rollison explained.

Rollison said VDOT hopes to have guidelines developed by the fall. Once the guidelines have been approved by the Federal Highway Administration and the Virginia Transportation Board, an RFP will be issued. After that, they hope to award a contract by the beginning of the year.

Expecting enthusiast response, Rollison points out that another proposal by Gov. McDonnell to divert part of the state sales tax to roads was not approved.

“We don’t raise taxes for transportation programs. The last time did was 1986; we’re conservative.” Instead, she said, “Virginia is a leader in partnering with the private sector to generate improvement,” adding that this program “offers a lot of opportunity for the private sector.”

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