Ohio DOT launches ‘SMART’ program to generate millions

The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) is hoping to generate millions of dollars in new money by launching a program that will permit advertising and sponsorship opportunities at interstate rest areas and welcome centers throughout Ohio.

Starting on May 21, the agency began seeking competitive bids for the Sponsorship, Maintenance, and Advertising Revenue Tartgeted (SMART) program.

Money generated from the SMART program will help ODOT offset a portion of the $30 million to $50 million the agency spends each year to maintain the state’s 101 rest areas. Annual rest area maintenance costs include paying gas, water, electric and sewage bills, as well as mowing grass, resurfacing parking lots, improving buildings and paying for janitorial and housekeeping services.

“This new program will help do two things: reduce the amount of money ODOT spends on rest area maintenance and generate new money we can use to pay for some of the major construction projects communities have told us they want,” said ODOT Director Jerry Wray in a May 21 press release. “Launching the SMART program demonstrates that ODOT is serious about thinking outside the box and seeking innovative and alternative funding sources to pay for road construction in Ohio.”

This is the first major initiative ODOT has announced since it launched the Division of Innovative Delivery earlier this year. The department is exploring options to unlock the revenue potential of the Ohio Turnpike and non-interstate rest areas, in addition to developing a program to generate millions of dollars for the sponsorship and naming rights of certain state-owned assets such as bridges, interchanges and sections of highway.

The division is also exploring public-private partnerships (P3’s) to expedite the construction of some of the state’s largest construction projects, including the following:

  • The second Innerbelt Bridge in Cleveland
  • The Brent Spence Bridge in Cincinnati
  • The Portsmouth Bypass in Scioto County
  • An interchange for U.S. Route 36 and SR 37 on I-71 in Delaware County

In January, ODOT announced a $1.6 billion budget hole that forced the department to push back by decades some of the state’s largest construction projects. Since then, the agency has initiated a complete review of all current and future transportation projects to identify those that could be excellent candidates for P3’s, and has sought to identify additional sources of revenue to aid in the funding of major transportation projects throughout the state. Details of the review are expected later this year.