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December 05. 2012 12:06AM

NH could sell naming rights to roads, bridges, roadways

Ready to ride on the Twinkie Turnpike? Not likely - that could be a road to nowhere, given recent developments.

But the Weight Watchers Weigh Station? Walmart Walkway? In 2013, state legislators will be asked to debate the merits of establishing a committee to weigh the pros and cons of selling naming rights for bridges, roadways and similar structures, creating a potential new revenue source for the Department of Transportation (DOT).

"Handled properly, I think there could be a market for this," said Daniel E. Innis, dean and professor of marketing at UNH's Whittemore School of Business and Economics. "We're probably talking about larger firms and companies here, but depending on the terms and cost structure, I think there could be interest. It's a great way to get your name out there."

The idea was brought forth last legislative session by Rep. Dan McGuire, R-Epsom.

"Other states are just beginning to dip their toes into the pool when it comes to ideas like this," said McGuire. "I don't have an estimate on how much revenue it could raise. We're just not there yet, but I don't think we're talking a huge number here, and every little bit would help."

McGuire's bill, HB 1400, would have allowed the DOT commissioner to "issue a request for proposals (RFP) to sell naming rights for a particular structure, including but not limited to bridges, overpasses, and exits, to the highest bidder."

How much money?

The language in the bill called for all sales of naming rights to be approved by the governor and council, with the proceeds deposited in the highway fund. The purchaser would be responsible for paying the cost of erecting, maintaining, and removing signage as well as an annual fee. The term of any contract for naming rights would not exceed 25 years, and could be shorter.

Legislators in the House sent the bill to interim study.

"The bill has now gone through the interim study process before the House Public Works Committee, where they thought it had merit," said McGuire. "However they wanted further study of the details. Our new bill would form a committee to look into what could be named, under what terms, length of time, etc. It will also try to estimate what amount of revenue is available."

The new LSR number assigned to McGuire's proposed legislation is 2013-H-0348.

While DOT spokesman Bill Boynton wrote in an email that his department has no estimate on how much revenue could be generated by the sale of naming rights.

"We are open to any kind of innovative financing initiatives to meet our funding challenges that would help address New Hampshire's transportation needs," wrote Boynton in an email. "We recently did announce a private-public partnership that has State Farm Insurance sponsoring our Turnpikes Motorist Service Patrol on I-95, the Blue Star Turnpike, and the Spaulding Turnpike at $145,000 for the next three years."

There is a market

Two bills were passed last year in Virginia authorizing that state's Commonwealth Transportation Board to sell naming rights for roads and ferries. In Ohio, the DOT has started selling naming rights for roads and bridges, and advertising rights at rest stops. In Boston, the MBTA (the city's transit agency) will explore selling naming rights for subway stations.

Innis said he thinks there is a market in New Hampshire for naming rights.

"If you think about it, we're already doing it here, when you see signs saying that stretches of highway are 'adopted' by companies," said Innis. "This would have a higher price associated with it than those signs, and would likely attract only bigger firms, but the concept is the same. It gets their name out there, in everyday conversation - when people are giving directions, or reading signs, they are using the name."

McGuire said it is not his intent to sell naming rights for roads or structures already named in honor of an individual, though it is a possibility.

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Paul Feely may be reached at pfeely@unionleader.com.


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