Opinion

Why couldn’t the bridge’s name be sold?

Erstwhile Tacoma Narrows Bridge opponent Randy Boss, now that the project has actually been constructed, has lately become an outspoken critic of the growing momentum in Olympia to name the span for the late State Sen. Bob Oke.

But at least no one can say his quest is entirely personal, since Boss has come up with an idea that could make far more sense economically than turning the bridge into a shrine to the Port Orchard lawmaker who was so instrumental in getting it built, only to die of cancer just weeks before its completion last summer.

In short, Boss wonders why we should give away for free what could potentially be sold for a sizeable chunk of change — enough to offer the beleaguered tollpayers a considerable amount of relief and maybe enough to eliminate the toll entirely.

Just as the Seattle Seahawks play in Qwest Field and the Mariners play in Safeco Field, Boss wonders why commuters would be offended at the idea of crossing a bridge carrying the name of Microsoft, REI or some other Northwest corporation anxious to associate itself with a community icon.

And pay handsomely for the privilege.

How handsomely? That’s hard to say, but just for the sake of discussion let’s bounce around a few numbers.

Safeco Insurance bought the naming rights to the Mariners’ new stadium in 1999 at a cost of $40 million over 20 years — or $2 million per season.

Figuring the stadium drew 2.7 million visitors last season, we can calculate that the company spent roughly 74 cents for each fan exposed to its stadium message.

Qwest, meanwhile, spent $75 million in 2004 to have the Seahawks’ home field bear its name for 15 years — which works out to $5 million a season. With a seating capacity of 75,000 and eight regular-season sellouts a year, that amounts to a total annual attendance of 600,000.

Which means Qwest pays about $8.30 per exposure.

By comparison, the existing dual-span Tacoma Narrows Bridge handles approximately 90,000 vehicles per day. Even assuming only one occupant per vehicle, that still adds up to nearly 33 million people per year.

How much would a corporate sponsor pay for the exclusive right to disseminate its message to a captive audience of 33 million commuters a year for the next 20 years? Averaging together the amount already being paid by Safeco and Qwest, you come up with an estimate of $4.52 per exposure.

Project that over 33 million exposures annually, and it comes to a whopping $149 million. Per year.

Obviously that number could be wildly extravagant, but even if it’s off by a factor of 10, that’s still $15 million a year the state would be essentially leaving on the table to name the bridge after Bob Oke for free instead of selling a corporate sponsorship.

The question is, has anyone even asked if this is doable?

Just last year Washington State Ferries began selling advertising space aboard its vessels as a way to generate much-needed revenue for the struggling service. Has anyone applied that kind of outside-the-box thinking to the bridge — or for that matter any other transportation project? (How about the “Starbucks Burley-Olalla Interchange,” for example?)

Again, no one can say how such a program would work, or how the idea would be received by corporate advertisers. But it’s a safe bet commuters would be receptive

to any arrangement that could reduce or potentially elim-

inate the tolls they’re paying in exchange for being expos-ed to one more advertising message during their drive.

What we’d especially like to hear is how the 26th District’s elected representatives would explain to their constituents why they didn’t even bother to explore that alternative before agreeing to let commuters continue to shoulder the entire burden themselves.

Isn’t there a less expensive way to honor Oke’s memory?

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