By Jud McCrehin, USA TODAY
By Jessica Tully, USA TODAY
When you stop at a highway rest area, your road trip may resume after a brief word from a sponsor.
A growing number of states are accepting bids on sponsorship rights from companies for rest areas in an attempt to cope with funding cuts. Although no signs are up yet, some states, including Georgia, Iowa, Ohio and Virginia, are seeking bids.
The Federal Highway Administration clarified guidelines in March after questions were raised by states considering offering sponsorship rights in exchange for financial contributions. Signs announcing the sponsors are allowed as long as they are consistent with other highway signs, according to the guidelines.
States spend millions of dollars annually to maintain rest areas, said Yolanda Cade of the auto club AAA. Because the alternative is to close rest areas, Cade said, AAA supports states allowing sponsorship rights.
States considering sponsorships:
•Iowa. Brooks Glasnapp, advertisement management supervisor at the Iowa Department of Transportation, said he expects a variety of companies, including car dealerships, cellphone companies and casinos, to make bids this year to sponsor one of the state's 40 rest areas.
•Virginia. The state DOT is seeking a statewide sponsorship, rather than having rest areas sponsored by individual companies, spokeswoman Tamara Rollison said. Virginia's 43 rest areas and welcome centers cost the state about $21 million each year to maintain, she said.
•Ohio. More than just rest areas are on the table here. The Ohio DOT is also considering allowing companies to sponsor bridges, according to spokeswoman Melissa Ayers.
Hard times have caused some states - including Colorado, Louisiana Maine, Vermont and Virginia - to temporarily close some of their rest areas. Cade said such a move is dangerous. According to a 2010 AAA survey, 41% of people said they have fallen asleep at the wheel. Frequent rest areas are necessary to keep the roads safe, she said.
John Adam, director of the Iowa DOT's highway division, said state officials are concerned that some sponsors could prove controversial.
"We haven't specifically decided how we will deal with that. but the way the rules are written we do have some latitude to decline a sponsorship that we think would be detrimental to the public good," Adam said.
Denny Crase, a contractor from Winterset, Iowa, said he wouldn't want a controversial group sponsoring a rest area, but he would have no complaints about a company such as a grocery chain doing so.
"As long as we've got the restrooms, I guess it's fine," Crase said, adding, "I mean, everything else is sponsored by something."
Contributing: William Petroski, Des Moines Register