Selling the right to name a highway overpass may pay for it

No one thinks twice about whether professional sports teams should let corporations buy the naming rights to their stadiums.

You expect to hear about AT&T Stadium whenever a sportscaster talks about the home of the Dallas Cowboys.

The Texas Rangers play at Globe Life Park in Arlington.

The Dallas Mavericks do battle at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.

We understand sports franchises are big businesses and selling these corporate sponsorships is one way they make money.

Would we be as accepting if we saw the names and logos of corporations splashed across the highway overpasses we encounter on our daily commutes to work?

It’s an idea Michael Morris, the transportation director at the North Central Texas Council of Governments, raised briefly at a recent meeting.

Morris showed a slide with the American Airlines name stretched across the length of an overpass and suggested the company might pay an unidentified amount to have that near its headquarters.

To our knowledge there’s no detailed proposal to sell corporate naming rights for highway features in Texas, but we think it’s something to explore.

Consider that despite some new funding the Texas Department of Transportation says it still needs several billion dollars more a year just to maintain existing roads. Meanwhile, the state’s population and congestion continue to grow.

The State of Virginia passed a law in 2012 authorizing private companies to buy the naming rights to roads, highways and bridges.

At the time, it estimated the cost of a sign on a heavily traveled interstate would be about $200,000 a year. Slapping your company’s name on a high-profile bridge would set you back around $350,000.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials says Virginia and Iowa also sell sponsorships at rest stops. Arizona, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee and Utah have taken steps to do the same.

In Texas, this would probably require the legislature’s approval. The state would have to decide which companies could buy in and which couldn’t. Would we allow alcohol and tobacco businesses to participate? Would we take a company’s name down if it got into legal trouble or closed its doors?

And what if the overpass with naming rights were on a highway where traffic is always at a standstill? That could be a tough sell. What business wants to be associated with gridlock and traffic jams?

Still, around 71,000 drivers every day pass the North Cooper Street bridge heading east on I-30. That’s a lot of eyeballs on your brand.

Highway naming rights won’t take the place of solid public funding, and the money raised wouldn’t end the debate over toll roads. But if naming rights added a reasonable source of money to build and repair our roads, we should have the discussion.

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