Naming rights could alleviate, not solve funding shortages

The News TribuneFebruary 4, 2013 

Would you support renaming the Tacoma Narrows Bridge if it kept tolls from rising higher than they otherwise would?

What if it were renamed the Taco Bell Narrows Bridge and only kept the toll from increasing, say, by 25 cents?

It’s that kind of question that lawmakers must consider with House Bill 1050 and 1051, which would allow naming rights for public facilities and transportation infrastructure, respectively. Both are prime-sponsored by state Rep. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard; HB 1051 is co-sponsored by freshman Rep. Linda Kochmar, R-Federal Way.

Angel’s main motivation for supporting naming rights is to provide some toll relief for Narrows Bridge commuters.

‘That’s a worthy goal; the round-trip toll is slated to increase from the current $4 to $6 in 2015. But it’s doubtful that the sale of naming rights would put much of a dent in the $45 million the state owes annually in debt payment. If the toll relief isn’t more than a pittance, would it be worth giving the bridge a name that might become the target of jokes?

Naming rights could have a much more significant impact on a smaller scale. For instance, it’s costly to maintain highway rest stops and state parks; selling the naming rights to these highly visible sites could provide much-needed revenue. The public is likely to support naming rights if it meant those facilities would be well-maintained and not threatened with closure.

Selling naming rights is something the public is already familiar with: KeyArena, Safeco Field and CenturyLink Field are all examples in the region. People often come up with their own nicknames to take the commercial edge off the names: The Safe and The Clink, for example.

Angel’s legislation forbids names that are indecent, religious or political, or that promote tobacco, alcohol, marijuana or illegal drugs. In naming transportation infrastructure, at least one public hearing would be required.

Both bills limit naming rights to five years, so no permanent damage would be done if the name turns out to be a dud. In tough economic times, with money short for maintaining important public facilities, it makes sense to give naming rights a shot – in limited cases.

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