Virginia offers naming rights for rest stops

By Susan Schept

ARLINGTON, Va (Reuters) – Driving through Virginia? You could soon be making a pit stop at the Geico Travel Plaza.

The commonwealth is selling naming rights to its 42 rest stops and welcome centers to help defray the $20 million annual operating and maintenance costs.

“By partnering with the private sector, we will save taxpayer dollars and keep our rest areas and welcome centers open,” Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, a Republican, said in a statement this week.

With states facing severe budget shortfalls, rest stops are one of the easiest expenses to cut. Former Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, a Democrat, closed 19 stops in 2009 to save a projected $9 million annually.

McDonnell reopened them about eight months later, and directed the Virginia Department of Transportation and other state agencies to figure out a money-making scheme.

The state doesn’t have an estimate of potential revenue or any particular vendors in mind, said transportation spokesman Joe Vagi.

“We would certainly welcome and encourage anyone to submit a proposal,” Vagi said.

Virginia rest stops serve an estimated 33 million visitors each year, according to the state.

State officials are working with the Federal Highway Administration to not run afoul of federal rules that block commercial enterprises on federally funded roadways.

Several other states — including New Jersey and Illinois — are looking into similar sponsorship initiatives, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Florida lawmakers are weighing whether to offer naming rights for any state-owned transportation property, from highways to parks.

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jerry Norton)

Virginia offers naming rights for rest stops