The sporting realm is very familiar with private names on public monuments. Most visibly in Washington state, we have Safeco Field for the Seattle Mariners, CenturyLink (formerly Qwest) Field for the Seattle Seahawks, Alaska Airlines (formerly Bank of America) Arena at the University of Washington and KeyArena for ... well, perhaps the reincarnation of the Seattle SuperSonics if that pans out.
So, is the prospect of the Starbucks Interchange on Interstate 82 any more of a travesty? We think not, and we think people would get comfortable with the idea very quickly, just as they have on sporting venues.
The idea is out there in the form of House Bill 1051, filed earlier this month in the Washington Legislature, which would authorize the sale of naming rights for highways, rest areas, bridges and viewpoints to help pay for highway maintenance. Republican Reps. Jan Angel of Port Orchard and Linda Kochmar of Federal Way are the sponsors.
The state’s transportation needs are growing, and means to fund them isn’t keeping up. The state imposes a 37.5-cent-per-gallon tax on gasoline, in addition to the federal government’s 18.4-cent-per-gallon tax. But vehicles are getting better gas mileage, which means fewer gallons consumed and less money in state coffers. The bill states that revenues have dropped 10 percent since 2001, while construction costs have risen 77 percent.
Kochmar says the impetus for the bill came while crossing the tolled Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which costs $4 round trip for Good to Go pass holders or $5 cash. She sees the bill as a way to ease the burden of tolls. The bill calls for money collected on a toll bridge or road to be put to that particular facilty; for nontolled roads, bridges, etc., the money must be used for highway purposes.
The state Transportation Commission would oversee the process and set the rates. The legislation imposes limits on who or what can get naming rights; the law wouldn’t allow obscenities on the signs, or adult businesses, religious groups and political entities, among others, to take part. Supporters say the Federal Highway Administration supports the naming-rights concept.
Other states have started down this, um, road. Virginia has sold a $2 million sponsorship right for its 43 rest areas to a national insurance company; that money will cover one-tenth of the state’s cost to maintain the rest areas.
A variation of this concept is in place right now in Union Gap. Motorists who navigate the Valley Mall Boulevard roundabouts near Interstate 82 no doubt have seen a sign advertising the new Cabela’s store in Union Gap. The sign sits in a city right-of-way. Union Gap officials say the city allows such signs from entities that attract to the city people who — it is reasoned — will stop and spend money. The city derives no direct income from the sign; city officials say the financial benefit stems from tax dollars generated by the store. Cabela’s pays for installing and maintaining the sign.
The recent national economic recession has exposed the shortcomings of government funding models, and the taxpayers of this state have repeatedly voiced that they are tired of business as usual. Elected officials say they are open to creative ideas for funding the state’s essential services; allowing naming rights along our highways is one well worth considering.
• Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Sharon J. Prill, Bob Crider, Frank Purdy and Karen Troianello.