Virginia lawmakers are considering selling the rights to street names in the hopes of increasing revenue. Virginia’s Department of Transportation, amid budget cuts, might soon be looking to companies and corporations to pay for their namesake on public streets. Could Starbucks Lane, McDonald’s Boulevard, or Toyota Avenue be in the state’s future?
From Ryan Murphy | Capital News Service
As the state budget inches closer to passage by the General Assembly, the Virginia Department of Transportation is eyeing new measures that would allow the state to sell the naming rights for roads, bridges and highway stretches.
“We look for revenue generation opportunity where we can, and we try to be creative with it,” VDOT spokeswoman Tamara Rollison said. She said it has been a struggle for VDOT to maintain Virginia’s infrastructure in light of the department’s financial troubles. “Our resources and revenues have been dwindling over the years,” she said, noting that a 1986 gas tax increase was the most recent serious increase in revenue. “When we can find innovative ways to partner with the private sector and generate some revenue, we try to do that.”
As it stands, the Virginia Senate has passed a version of the budget that would delay the opening of tolls in Hampton Roads until 2014. This could cost the state an estimated $125 million. Early projections of the prices and sales of road naming rights show that the program could raise a few million dollars per year and $273 million over the next 20 years. That’s a mere fraction of VDOT’s annual budget, which is $4.76 billion for fiscal year 2012. Still, every little bit helps, officials say.
Virginia already has developed a naming rights program for its highway rest stops, slated to begin later this year. A program for roads and bridges would build on those efforts. The central question is whether putting a name on a bridge or road will be attractive to consumers, especially to businesses seeking to expand their brand’s reach. “I think the companies will love it,” said Bridget Camden, a professor of advertising at Virginia Commonwealth University. “Every time someone hits MapQuest, the name would come up.”
Camden, who spent 20 years in the advertising world working with companies such as IBM, BP and American Express, said companies initially might jump at the chance to brand a highway with their logo if the price is right. But certain factors could deter businesses from buying the naming rights.
“I think it could backfire on them if they can’t control the stretch of road,” Camden said. For instance, roads can have problems ranging from litter to prostitution – and those things could hurt a company’s image. Camden said controlling the “brand message” and associations tied to a company is key for effective advertising.
“Every company wants their name associated with something positive, but what if that stretch of highway is accident prone?” she asked. One possible solution is that companies not only buy the naming rights to the road or highway but also “adopt” the stretch and do some basic maintenance. “Big corporations become very conscious about how they look, so maybe it will be incentive to keep the roads clean,” Camden said.
The General Assembly is holding a special session to craft the state budget for the next two years. The House and Senate have passed competing plans, and a conference committee is trying to hammer out a compromise acceptable to both chambers. If the final budget passes with the new program, VDOT will begin setting pricing and guidelines for naming rights this summer, before the budget takes effect July 1.
stock photo by taberandrew