The Big Ted' Burger Memorial Bridge?

Published 3:28 pm Thursday, April 5, 2012

Don't look now folks-well, do look, because you're going to be driving on them, through them, and over them-but our highways, tunnels and bridges may soon resemble college football bowl games.

You know, the Gator Bowl.

The Bowl.

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And the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, with or without guacamole.

Hungry for transportation funding, but without an appetite for a truly effective revenue stream, Gov. McDonnell proposed selling the naming rights for Virginia's highway infrastructure to private entities.


And that proposal is part of the omnibus transportation bill approved by the General Assembly. House Bill 1248 contained a provision “authorizing the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) to name highways, bridges, interchanges, and other transportation facilities for private entities if an annual naming rights fee is paid, with the revenue dedicated to highway maintenance and operation.” The Senate version was identical.

This, then, is your future:

Imagine getting a cell phone call from someone you and your wife have invited to dinner.

Your friends are late.

They are lost.

They are hungry.

You give them directions.

“Take a left onto McDonalds Angus Chipotle BBQ Bacon Boulevard, go three miles and turn right on Burger King's Flame-Broiled Triple Whopper Road and hang a left onto Dave's Hot'N Juicy Cheeseburger Street. We're the fifth house on the right. What? Yes, hold the mayo if you wish, but holding the steering wheel would be best. And, of course, those items are all registered brand names but you can still drive down them.”

Most importantly, obviously, is this-how could your dinner possibly meet your guests' culinary expectations after directions like those?

And suppose you invite them to dinner again three years later but McDonalds, Burger King, and Wendys have all decided that two years worth of road naming rights were enough. Your friends would never find their way, no matter how hard you try.

"No, no,” you attempt to explain when they call, hopelessly lost, “take a left on Applebee's Sizzling Chicken With Spicy Queso Blanco Boulevard, go three miles and turn right on Ruby Tuesday's Allergen-Sensitivity Menu Guide Road, and then hang that right onto…What's that? Oh. Honey, they're not coming to our house for dinner tonight after all. They've suddenly got other plans. Yes, dear, registered brand names and trademarks again.”

Okay, sure, you and your wife are seriously discommoded by the abrupt decision of your friends to suddenly pull into a parking lot and have dinner somewhere else. That five pounds of Brussels sprouts, marinated in olive oil, halved and then baked in the oven for 30 minutes is going to take you two weeks to eat now-three days if you allow your dog to help. But, heck, look on the bright side. The Commonwealth of Virginia has made a hundred thousand bucks, or something, for highway maintenance and operation.

Wash down your dudgeon by making it a lemons-into-lemonade moment, remembering that the state now has enough money to touch up your ditches or repave four inches of your road. Perhaps five. It's unclear at the moment.

The prices and rules for naming rights are still being concocted by the Virginia Department of Transportation but some of the prices may be as low as $5,000 a year. The rates will be based on the importance of the transportation infrastructure. Size will matter, apparently.

I do applaud the governor for creativity. He is following up the naming rights sale for Virginia's highway rest stops-the next Easy Rest Stop is in 20 miles. And I certainly had fun writing this editorial. But is this really the best way to do business, to annually provide for the very serious transportation needs facing Virginia?

The Virginia Association of Counties doesn't think so, and has written, asking Governor McDonnell to veto the omnibus transportation legislation, specifically citing “the absence of any new funding sources other than the purchase of naming rights to transportation facilities by private entities. Revenues from the sale of naming rights are not only controversial but expected to add only marginal revenues to support Virginia's transportation system.”

Why stop at highway infrastructure? Why not sell the naming rights to the governor's mansion, the capitol building, and our state parks?

We could have the Uzi Semi Automatic Bb Gun Blowback Registered Brand and Trademark cardinal for our state bird and the Clear Cut Deluxe Chainsaw Dogwood as Virginia's state flower. The Thompson's WaterSeal High Bridge Trail State Park sounds a treat; it's got a registered trademark and everything.

Perhaps the governor and legislators should have spent more time on Google Interstate Highway, researching better ways to meet a very real challenge.

We have a super-size problem and we are getting dollar-menu solutions.