Our street signs could soon become tiny green billboards for blandly named banks.
We are getting closer to living in a world where publicly owned bridges and fire trucks get plastered with ads by corporate sponsors.
We are that desperate for money.
As the New York Times reported last week, cash-strapped cities and states across the country are moving further into the ad business in an attempt to pay for basic services. The article focused on Baltimore’s efforts to protect its fire department from cuts, but that city is far from alone.
Now let’s be clear: The last thing we want is more ads messing up our view. So we are vexed to say these steps appear justified.
Locally, state Rep. Jan Angel, R- Port Orchard, wants to sell the naming rights to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge to control the cost of tolls. If her plan works, she sees letting corporations regularly bid on naming rights, with the money paying for work along renamed bridges and roads.
Why do this? Because the state needs $21 billion to keep our roads in shape in the coming decade. When you’re talking billions, every million counts.
And naming rights generate millions. CenturyLink is half-way through a $75 million, 15-year contract to name the Seahawks’ home stadium, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. On average, that comes to $5 million a year.
It’s hard to say if the rights to a stretch of I-5 would make that much — the rights to football stadiums are famously expensive. But if it did, it could pay for a road project.
Another reason to support the idea: We already do this kind of thing. Public buses carry ads for plumbers. And many in Snohomish County drive the Boeing Freeway — not a paid endorsement. We call that stretch of Highway 526 the Boeing Freeway to be good sports to Boeing Co., for making all the airplanes and jobs. (Again, thanks for that.)
KOMO Radio’s John Carlson also has mentioned that renaming some sites wouldn’t change much. Take the Highway 520 floating bridge. Its official name: “The Governor Albert D. Rossellini Bridge — Evergreen Point.” The only people who call it that are Rosellini’s relatives.
Imagine it being renamed the X-Box Floating Bridge for a few million dollars. Would anyone bother using the new name? Probably not. They would say what they’ve always said: “Take the 520 bridge.”
None of this makes the idea of more ads palatable. Instead, let’s call it edible. We don’t like the taste of it, but if it means keeping our fire engines rolling across smoothly paved streets, we can keep it down.