Virginia drafting rules for highway naming

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Photo - Businesses and individuals will soon be able to buy naming rights to Virginia highways. Their names will be displayed on roadside signs, smartphone directional apps and online maps. (Examiner file photo)
Businesses and individuals will soon be able to buy naming rights to Virginia highways. Their names will be displayed on roadside signs, smartphone directional apps and online maps. (Examiner file photo)
Local,Virginia,Transportation,Liz Essley

People and companies that buy the naming rights to Virginia's roads, bridges and other infrastructure won't just get their names on a sign along the highway.

Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton is pushing to make sure that when a company like Burger King pays to name a road, the company's name will also pop up in front of potential customers on smartphone directional apps and Internet maps.

"The real value in naming rights isn't solely a name or a sign on a major thoroughfare," Connaughton told the Commonwealth Transportation Board, which is drafting the rules for the sale of naming rights, an initiative Gov. Bob McDonnell proposed to raise money for transportation projects. "It's the thousands of people who look through the Web and through smart apps. They may never drive on that specific piece of highway but still can be touched by this marketing technology."

So far, the draft rules say that only legal or registered names will be permitted and a bridge or road cannot be named for more than one entity, according to a presentation by Virginia Department of Transportation official Constance Sorrell.

Officials have not yet decided prices for the road names -- VDOT may hire a consultant to help determine those. But a previous VDOT document showed prices could range from $5,000 for secondary roads to $200,000 for interstate highways.

Previous estimates show the state could make as much as $273 million over 20 years from the naming sales.

"We recognize this isn't large amounts of money, but it is some funds that can be used to offset the cost [of transportation]," Connaughton said.

The rules being drafted by the Commonwealth Transportation Board would require any naming rights revenue to be used for same road or bridge that was named.

The naming rights law took effect July 1, but the rules and prices won't be worked out until this winter.

While McDonnell said the sale of naming rights would help pay for badly needed improvements, critics complain that it would appear tacky and generate little revenue.

"It tell us about the sad state of transportation that we have to use gimmicks like this," said AAA Mid-Atlantic's John Townsend. "The highway belongs to the public, and we're building these highways with the taxpayers' money."

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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