Signage for Sale — A New Twist on Public-Private Partnership

California motorists could be urged to tank up at Chevron, use parts from Napa Auto, shop at Office Depot or upgrade their Mac under a proposal by Gov Arnold Schwarzenegger to allow advertising on the changeable message signs lining the state’s freeways.

The idea is one of the GOP governor’s proposals to erase the current fiscal year’s estimated deficit of $6 billion. No estimate of the revenue that the idea might generate is listed in Schwarzenegger’s budget plan.

While unlikely the Legislature will approve the idea whether Schwarzenegger is in office or out, the soon-to-be-departing governor drafted five–and-one-half pages of proposed legislation to implement the idea.

The proposed legislation – the Transportation Revenue Partnership Act –  adds Article 4.6, commencing with Section 172, to the Streets and Highways Code. Several findings are made before the measure spells out how to add advertising to the signs that urge motorists to buckle up, look for vehicles carrying abducted children or display road conditions.

Chief among those findings is that private sponsors and advertisers could bear the costs of upgrading the signs by allowing them to hawk their wares on them.

“Recent advances in technology have made it possible to create a more reliable network of changeable message signs that combine text with graphics in order to rapidly and clearly communicate important information to the users of California’s highways more safely and effectively than the current network of changeable message signs.

“This advanced technology could improve the effectiveness and reliability of the network of changeable message signs, thereby enhancing the health, safety, and welfare of the people of California.”

Recent additions to the bill, printed in red, call for first conducting a demonstration project in which at least 50 existing signs in various aprts of the state will carry advertising for at least six months.

An “independent consultant” will then study the demonstration project and offer recommendations to the Department of Transportation on whether the advertising is safe or distracting, among other things.

Then a decision would be made as to whether to sell space on all signs.

The proposed bill does say that emergency notifications and traveler information will have priority over advertising.  And winning bidders would be chosen through a competitive process.

There are some restrictions. The department can’t enter into an agreement with anyone who wants to advertise or display “tobacco, firearms, or sexually explicit material.”

(Editor’s Note: Presumably, such a ban is needed, at least in the case of the third category, because it would clearly prove a major distraction to motorists.)

Unlike the 11 state office buildings the state is selling to private investors for $2.3 billion, Caltrans retains ownership of the changeable freeway signs, regardless of any improvements advertisers make to them.

The bill notes that a change in federal law or a waiver from the Federal Highway Administration would be needed to allow the  advertising.


Filed under: Budget and Economy

1 Comment »

  1. Lame.

    Comment by Ron Dougherty — 12.08.2010 @ 9:33 pm

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