By SUSAN HAIGH
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Selling more advertising and leasing naming rights are being discussed as possible ways to raise at least a small portion of the money needed to operate Connecticut’s transportation system without inflicting much financial pain on taxpayers and commuters.
Corporate sponsorship of highway rest stops and other Department of Transportation services also are under discussion.
Department of Transportation Commissioner James Redeker said he’s interested in such ideas, although he stressed they won’t raise nearly enough money to put a dent in the $100 billion price tag of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed 30-year overhaul of the state’s transportation system.
The plan calls for widening highways, rebuilding major viaducts, replacing bridges, expanding bus service and expanding rail lines. Redeker said additional revenue from advertising and naming rights could help offset operating costs for some of those initiatives, albeit a small offset.
Last year, the DOT received about $3.5 million from advertising on trains, buses and ferries. There is no formal proposal yet to boost advertising or seek corporate sponsorships, and no estimates for how much they might bring in, but they’re not expected to come close to generating what’s needed for the governor’s plan.
“Those are ideas that assist us in managing operating costs, but they’re not funding big transportation programs,” Redeker said.
A new commission created by Malloy is looking at ways to pay for his initiative. Last month, Malloy’s budget chief gave the panel some ideas for potential revenue-generators, mentioning everything from tolls and use taxes to corporate sponsorships and asset sales.
Redeker said he’d like the commission to examine how the state can defray operating costs, in addition to funding the massive infrastructure improvements. Of the approximate $1.3 billion collected this fiscal year from fuels taxes, fees and other revenues to maintain the Special Transportation Fund _ the main account used to pay for transportation costs _ about $877 million were to go to DOT operating expenses.
For more than a year, Redeker’s staff has been examining whether corporate sponsorships could help cover the cost to run about a half-dozen highway rest stops. Because they originally were built with federal highway money, the facilities _ which offer travelers restrooms and vending machines _ cannot be privatized. However, Redeker said the federal government is offering a pilot program that would allow private sponsorships.
The DOT also is looking into possible sponsorship of the agency’s emergency service trucks, which assist disabled motorists on the highways. Redeker said federal money for the popular service has dried up, forcing the state to cover the entire tab.
In the past, the agency has examined the possibility of leasing naming rights for transit stations and other transit-owned property. In a 2007 report to the General Assembly, DOT at the time believed there was a “significant possibility” that selling naming rights to transit stations as part of a marketing plan could generate “considerable revenues” that could be used to support that particular facility.
“By selling the naming rights to its stations, the mass transit services provided by the state of Connecticut could generate money to enhance and encourage ridership, defray operating costs, and preserve and maintain stations,” the report said.
Kevin Nursick, a DOT spokesman, said no action was taken to pursue naming rights, adding how “it was generally well understood at that time that there was no political support for such an endeavor.” Redeker said he’s interested in the idea, but said Connecticut has an agreement with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which oversees the advertising for Metro-North commuter rail cars and stations.
“To do something which would be a full-blown sponsorship _ that would take over rail cars or stations _ that model would need to change,” he said “I do think it’s worth looking at. I’d love to explore that.”
The idea of putting up more ads has not always sat well with commuters, however.
Some residents complained last summer when DOT sold advertising on the state’s two ferries that cross the Connecticut River. The ads featured a law firm, which later agreed to remove the ads and replace them with something more suited for tourists.