Naming rights for roads could be revenue for governments


Members of the Washington Redskins staff walk across FedEx Field before a game in January. Legislation pending in many states, and that is already law in Virginia, could allow companies to pay to put their names on roads as well. (Matt Slocum/AP)

Are you good with FedEx Field and the Verizon Center? Did you watch the NCAA football championship at the Discover Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium? Planning on catching the Super Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome?

Then consider this:

If you sat in traffic on the Burger King Capital Beltway would that make you hungry for a Whopper?

Would inching across the Gillette Fusion ProGlide 14th Street Bridge cause you to brush your hand across your cheek to check your morning shave?

Neither of those companies have been asked to sponsor local roadways, but in an age when naming rights to almost everything are for sale, and when the pinch on highway funding is painfully tight, don’t rule out new names for old highways.

It may happen here. Last year, Virginia’s legislature approved the practice, and the state has asked marketing companies to bid on a contract to come up with a naming rights plan. Maryland has given it some thought. The District, its recent budget surplus notwithstanding, could use the money.

It used to be that if you aspired to have your name affixed to something paved, first you had to become at least mildly famous and then you had to die. Woodrow Wilson comes to mind. Now all it takes is a barrel of cash.

The naming rights ball is in play right now in the state of Washington.

A bill in the state legislature would give private companies the right to attach their names to state highways and bridges. They also could buy viewpoints and rest stops, both of which the Washington, D.C., area has a great many.

(Given the frustration with traffic around here, people might consider the Tostitos Rest Stop more favorably than they would a piece of highway where they waste half an hour five times a week.)

The money collected in Washington state would be used to maintain the sponsored road, much as many states allow groups to sponsor stretches of road to pay for litter collection. Companies that sell cigarettes or adult entertainment won’t be allowed to sponsor.

There will be no Marlboro Bridge or 50 Shades of Gray Freeway.

The proposal came about because Washington state legislators want to hold down a toll increase on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. That prompted Rep. Jake Fey (D-Tacoma), at a hearing last week, to worry that it might become the “Chuck E. Cheese Bridge.”

“Are you concerned about the loss of that history?” Fey asked.

Around Washington, D.C., most highway history is of the painful sort, particularly for people trapped by the daily commute around one of the nation’s most congested cities.

But don’t rule out catchy corporate labels getting tagged on some all-too-familiar asphalt.

Virginia has just asked marketing companies to bid on a contract to develop a naming rights program that could attract corporate attention.

In Maryland, a GOP bill on selling highway naming rights died in committee last year.

In the District, where just about every inanimate object but the Capitol and the White House comes with some dead guy’s name attached, every new money-making idea gets its day.

Interested in naming rights for the coming street cars? The D.C. Circulator buses? The popular Capital Bikeshare program? Pick up the phone. That could happen, said District Department of Transportation spokesman John Lisle.

A bridge? An overpass? A cloverleaf? Perhaps you’d like to rebrand a boulevard currently named for one of those states whose inhabitants say they want nothing to do with Washington?

Okay, the last one’s a long shot, but with cash in short supply there may be room to negotiate. Only Auburn fans would object to “Roll Tide” Alabama Avenue. How about “I Love” New York Avenue?

Not so likely, says Terry Bellamy, who heads the District’s Department of Transportation.

“He pointed out all our bridges — or most of them anyway — already have names,” Lisle said. “We do have some ramps, however — depends how desperate you are, I guess.”

Ashley Halsey reports on national and local transportation.
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