Private 'Sponsorships' For Roadways To Fund Infrastructure?

Are sponsorships a way to get transportation projects done? (Tony Ganzer/WCPN)
Are sponsorships a way to get transportation projects done? (Tony Ganzer/WCPN)
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Infrastructure investment seems to be a recurring political theme without a definitive solution. Roads and bridges across the country are in sore need of maintenance, but investment hasn’t kept up with that need. States have been left to seek creative ways to earn money, and roadway sponsorships are one piece of Ohio’s strategy.

A spokesman for the Ohio Turnpike said last week it would consider selling sponsorships for road signs or snow plows, but wouldn’t go so far as selling naming rights to the whole roadway, as that might be viewed negatively by the public—so no Quicken Loans or First Energy Turnpike anytime soon.

We’ve see this kind of sponsorship on non-toll-roads too, in the form of a so-called “safety patrol” sponsored by State Farm. These trucks operate in metro areas to help stranded motorists with flat tires, or stalled vehicles. Ideastream’s Tony Ganzer spoke more about these creative funding sources with Ohio Department of Transportation spokesman Steve Faulkner.

FAULKNER: “We’ve looked at things like the freeway service patrol—that’s a service provided in big metropolitan areas throughout the state, that we were able to seek out sponsorship from State Farm and get about $8.5 million over a 10 year period, simply by having their name on a service we have provided in the past, and are going to continue to provide in the future. That’s $8.5 million we can put into the construction projects right there in Cleveland, and elsewhere throughout the state. So we are going to continue to look at how we can generate revenue—I don’t have some big examples for you right now—but we’re going to look at the forward-facing state-owned assets and see how they could be put to work for the good of Ohio motorists.”

GANZER: “I’m curious how you would answer this concern: is there a slippery slope here of piecing-off parts of our infrastructure in these kinds of funding models?”

FAULKNER: “There are state-owned assets that we believe there could be some kind of revenue-generating source from those state-owned assets. We’ve examined, or are in the process of examining, what kind of potential do we have? Could we sell advertising on our website, and generate some additional revenue that way, perhaps? Is there the potential that our rest areas that are there could be put to use and would generate some additional revenue from advertising for instance? We’ve seen that in some other states. So we’re going to continue to explore some of those questions. We might do it, we might not, I can’t tell you the answer today, but it’s certainly worth exploring.”

GANZER: “Is this a piecemeal approach to a bigger problem of infrastructure funding in Ohio and across the country?”

FAULKNER: “Oh, absolutely. Consider the fact the conversation that we just had for the past few months in the nation about the funding of the Highway Trust Fund, and how it was going broke, and how there is now a stop-gap measure that’s going to get us through the next few months. At some point there has to be a serious discussion about how transportation is funded, not only here in Ohio, but in the country. We’re going to be ready to be a part of that conversation when it occurs, but we know that we have to solve our problems right here in Ohio. If we want to build the Innerbelt Bridge, if we want to build the Opportunity Corridor, if we want to build the West Shoreway project and the bike lanes that go with that, and other beautification things, we’re going to have to have revenue, and we can’t depend upon the federal government to bail us out.”

GANZER: “Is there anything else you think people should keep in mind, maybe as we see signs of companies sponsoring certain things along the roadways? Should we be concerned, or do you think this is a viable solution?”

FAULKNER: “Previous administrations have kind of kicked the can down the road, and haven’t really dealt with the fact that the requests for all these projects are surpassing the amount of revenue that’s available. This administration is doing something about it. We’re doing it through a number of different ways. The sponsorships you’re mentioning are just one piece of that puzzle. We’re looking at State Farm now, we could look at others in the future, we might not. But it certainly is worth exploring.”

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