The bridge you are crossing is sponsored by…
When we talk about public-private partnerships, we mostly think of tollways and tolled bridges. But in this age of tax aversion and desperate underfunding, states are exploring smaller-dollar possibilities for the concept, some quite clever, and others opening the doors to some humorous possibilities.
According to the AASHTO Journal, the weekly transportation newsletter published by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, several states are offering sponsorship opportunities to private corporations.
Perhaps the most inventive of these is an arrangement between the New Hampshire Department of Transportation and State Farm insurance company. In that partnership, State Farm is sponsoring the state’s Motorist Service Patrol in exchange for having its decals displayed on MSP vehicles. The private money is said to help the DOT maintain and possibly expand its Motorist Service Patrol and it gives safety-conscious State Farm a truly positive affiliation.
Elsewhere, Ohio is selling advertising and sponsorship opportunities at its rest areas, while Virginia has recently authorized a program to sell naming rights for highways and bridges and other transportation facilities. And New Hampshire itself is considering a sponsorship program for bridges and overpasses.
The sometimes bizarre names of sponsored college football bowl games shows how awkward this can get. Then there’s the potential for unfortunate juxtapositions of sponsor names and the infrastructure that bears them. A corporation in the news for financial weakness, for example, might reflect negatively on a bridge bearing its name. Especially an older bridge. At the very least, it would become the target of jokes.
Similarly, you wouldn’t want a bridge or overpass emblazoned with a company name or slogan that included words like “crush” or “fall” or “collapse” or “disintegrate.”
On the other hand, there is the potential for some very creative, symbiotic relationships. One that comes immediately to mind is a paint brand like RustOleum sponsoring a bridge and using it as a canvas for its products, painting the structure regularly in creative patterns that show off a panoply of bright colors to remind consumers that its products are beautiful, fun and practical.
These programs probably won’t bring game-changing money to DOT coffers and they would bring some challenges along with the revenue, mostly stemming from the fact that selling advertising is not easy and it can’t be done on the side. You have to commit resources to it, even if you hire an outside firm to do the work, and state DOT resources are more limited today than they have been in years.
As a motorist, I also fear the day when, at the behest of the DOT, traffic reporters work sponsor-named bridges and highways into their reporting. Even now, in Chicago, a place I’ve called home since the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower, when traffic reporters refer to Interstates by their dedicated local names instead of their numeric designations, thousands of us are mystified. The Jane Adams Expressway? I don’t know where that is even though I probably use it frequently. What happens when it gets segmented into General Foods, General Motors and General Electric?