Ohio Turnpike should go all out with sponsorships

September 11, 2014

If just a couple of drops were going to hit me, I would have risked it in my Sunday casual best.

My long wait of being a chosen one for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was over; the only problem was I was a long way from home and wearing something more appropriate for a proper prayer rather than a “Please, God, do not let me experience hypothermia after I drop this 3-gal mixture of ice and water over my head!” I was trying to make it work, though, but my wife did not trust my grasp of physics.

“If I lean over and dump the bucket directly over my head I could avoid getting my pants wet,” I declared. Sally, however, was quick to deliver the letdown, and she was not gentle at all about it.

In hindsight, she was right. To avoid getting my pants wet was almost an impossibility, because there is no such thing as the ALS Ice Droplet Challenge. Those who accept it know they have to soak it all in.

The Ohio Turnpike has decided not to drench motorists in advertising. Instead, the tolling authority is just going to spray it around in the hopes that people do not want to throw a towel over the promotions due to heavy exposure.

Turnpike commissioners announced in late August they will not sell the naming rights to the 241-mile road, which contains 572 bridges and 14 service plazas, rather opting to allow advertising on first-responder emergency vehicles, trucker lounges, pet walking zones, snowplows, salt domes, vending machines and a few other assets. The move is expected to generate several million dollars a year.

People will quickly catch on to this so-called subtle approach, and some may challenge the turnpike to go back to the way it used to be. I can see why the turnpike would rather just rely on drivers “donating” instead of turning toll baskets completely upside down with what some might think is a radical way to generate more revenue. If the toll route was sponsored many would wonder why they were still being asked to pitch in monetarily. The reality of it is members of Congress continue to walk around with a bucket over their head. The House and Senate suffered from a paralysis earlier this summer, when both were caught without a backbone when it came to restructuring the way roads and bridges were to be funded in this country.

The lack of a constant flow of federal dollars is forcing more states to get creative for the cause. Ohio is taking a bold step, and it is one that cannot be done by tip-toeing around the very core of the effort. Advertising is advertising, whether it is a 30-second clip or a Hallmark movie. It’s already out there, so why not dump it all out at once? Because the turnpike does not want to commit sensory overload. But when officials get a taste of the potential, more and more of this form of marketing is going to be allowed on the grounds. Now you are looking at more of a staged approach, and the reaction every year or so will be, “They are doing this? What’s next?”

Rip it off once and get it over with. I’m not disagreeing with Ohio’s experiment here; I just believe if you are going to do it, make it bubble over after just one pour. Following the initial shock, drivers would get used to it, and I see very few traveling out of their way to avoid such a display.

One DOT has made the first move, and I believe more will follow suit. Missouri, North Carolina and Iowa—you have been challenged! R&B

Bill Wilson
Bill Wilson
Bill Wilson

Bill Wilson is the editorial director of ROADS & BRIDGES magazine and has been covering the industry since 1999. He has won seven Robert F. Boger Awards for editorial excellence, including three in 2011. He also was the creator of the Top 10, Contractor's Choice Awards and Recycling Awards platforms, as well as ROADS & BRIDGES Live.

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