I was recently in Cincinnati covering the fallout over the fight between the University of Cincinnati and Xavier men's basketball teams, and learned about the plight of the Brent Spence Bridge. In case you didn't know, this behemoth double-decker span carries Interstate 71 and Interstate 75 across the Ohio River between Cincinnati and Covington, Kentucky. Though it was considered a marvel of modern engineering when it was built, it has long carried a lot more traffic than it was ever intended to, and is aging badly. This bridge needs to be replaced, but a lack of funding has prevented it from happening. Interstate 71 runs from Cleveland to Louisville, and Interstate 75 runs from the Canadian border to Key West. The country cannot afford to have these highways severed in the middle of their courses. This problem even got the attention of President Obama, who gave a speech on September 22 of 2011, using the bridge as a backdrop.
Charging tolls to pay for a new bridge was the talk of TV and radio while I was in the Queen City. Everyone seemed to be opposed. Callers pointed out that we pay taxes toward road construction every time we pump gas, but government spokesmen insist that this is not enough. I have an idea from the world of sports that should make both tolls and higher gas taxes unnecessary: Selling corporate naming rights for the new bridge. The Current Bridge is named after a former Congressman almost no one remembers, and any politician known today would soon have his name fade into history as well, but how about The Western Southern Life Bridge, The Proctor and Gamble Bridge or even The Great American Bridge? Those names would continue to be meaningful to people as long as corporate sponsors chose to renew naming rights. Some laws would have to be changed to make this possible, but send some lobbyists up to Washington, and that can be done by tomorrow. I am sure that all kinds of companies would line up to get their name in huge letters on the side of the new bridge.
This idea doesn't have to be limited to bridges. We could finance government buildings in this fashion. In addition to future buildings, we could use corporate naming rights to maintain the ones we have now. Imagine The ABC/Disney Capitol Building, The Halliburton Pentagon, The Viacom Senate Office Building, The Comcast FCC Headquarters. The list goes on and on. Corporate vanity could pay for all kinds of things that taxpayers are on the hook for now, and reduce the national debt.
The politicians in Washington and statehouses need to seriously consider this. Once the laws standing in the way are changed, the agencies responsible for replacing the Brent Spence could call up potential corporate sponsors and say, "I've got a bridge to sell you".