Henrico County VA
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‘This road brought to you by…’

As the state budget inches closer to passage by the General Assembly, the Virginia Department of Transportation is hoping to raise money by selling the naming rights for roads, bridges and highway stretches.

“We look for revenue generation opportunity where we can, and we try to be creative with it,” VDOT spokeswoman Tamara Rollison said.

She said it has been a struggle for VDOT to maintain Virginia’s infrastructure in light of the department’s financial troubles.

“Our resources and revenues have been dwindling over the years,” she said, noting that a 1986 gas tax increase was the most recent serious increase in revenue. “When we can find innovative ways to partner with the private sector and generate some revenue, we try to do that.”

On March 10, the final day of the regular legislative session, the General Assembly passed two identical bills authorizing the Commonwealth Transportation Board, VDOT’s governing body, to sell the naming rights for such facilities as roads and ferries.

“The Board shall develop and approve guidelines governing the naming of highways, bridges, interchanges, and other transportation facilities by private entities and the applicable fees for such naming rights. Such fees shall be deposited in the Highway Maintenance and Operating Fund,” according to Senate Bill 639 and House Bill 1248.

The legislation, which is awaiting Gov. Bob McDonnell’s signature, says roads and facilities that already commemorate someone or carry a special name cannot be renamed “unless such naming incorporates the previous name.”

Moreover, “No name shall be eligible for the naming rights … if it in any way reasonably connotes anything that (i) is profane, obscene, or vulgar; (ii) is sexually explicit or graphic; (iii) is excretory related; (iv) is descriptive of intimate body parts or genitals; (v) is descriptive of illegal activities or substances; (vi) condones or encourages violence; or (vii) is socially, racially, or ethnically offensive or disparaging.”

Early projections of the prices and sales of road naming rights show that the program could raise a few million dollars per year and $273 million over the next 20 years. That’s a mere fraction of VDOT’s annual budget, which is $4.76 billion for fiscal year 2012.

Still, every little bit helps, officials say.

That’s especially true as the General Assembly holds a special session to craft a state budget for the next two years. The House and Senate have passed competing budgets, and a conference committee is trying to hammer out a compromise acceptable to both chambers.

The Senate version of the budget would delay the opening of tolls in Hampton Roads until 2014. This could cost the state an estimated $125 million. VDOT could offset some of the loss by selling the naming rights for roads.

Virginia already has developed a naming rights program for its highway rest stops, slated to begin later this year.

The central question is whether putting a name on a bridge or road will be attractive to consumers, especially to businesses seeking to expand their brand’s reach.

“I think the companies will love it,” said Bridget Camden, a professor of advertising at Virginia Commonwealth University. “Every time someone hits MapQuest, the name would come up.”

Camden, who spent 20 years in the advertising world working with companies such as IBM, BP and American Express, said companies initially might jump at the chance to brand a highway with their logo if the price is right. But certain factors could deter businesses from buying the naming rights.

“I think it could backfire on them if they can’t control the stretch of road,” Camden said. For instance, roads can have problems ranging from litter to prostitution – and those things could hurt a company’s image.

Camden said controlling the “brand message” and associations tied to a company is key for effective advertising.

“Every company wants their name associated with something positive, but what if that stretch of highway is accident prone?” she asked.

One possible solution is that companies not only buy the naming rights to the road or highway but also “adopt” the stretch and do some basic maintenance.

“Big corporations become very conscious about how they look, so maybe it will be incentive to keep the roads clean,” Camden said.


Community

Garden tails

The threat of bad weather didn’t keep visitors away from Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden July 10 for the facility’s weekly Flowers After 5 event (which pairs music and food with a chance to stroll the garden) and its monthly Fidos After 5 (which allows dog owners to bring their pets with them to enjoy the evening). > Read more.

Western Henrico Rotary helps fund Midwives For Haiti Jeep


Thanks in part to a $10,000 gift from the Western Henrico Rotary Club, another bright pink Jeep modified to travel extremely rough terrain has been delivered to Midwives For Haiti so that more pregnant women in the quake-ravaged country will have access to prenatal care and a greater chance of surviving childbirth.

The funds were raised at the annual casino night held in February, club president Adam Cherry said. The Rotary Club also helped purchase the Virginia-based charity’s first pink jeep three years ago. > Read more.

Agencies combine on new entry point to Chickahominy


Canoeing and kayaking enthusiasts soon will have a new access point to the Chickahominy River. VDOT, the James River Association and Henrico County Parks and Recreation are teaming up to establish a new site in Eastern Henrico.

The James River Association negotiated the deal with VDOT to procure official access to the area located just east of I-295 on North Airport Road in Sandston. The site includes a park-and-ride commuter lot bordering the Chickahominy River and has been an unofficial launch site used by paddlers for years. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Is there an Echo in here?

‘Earth to Echo’ aims to become this generation’s ‘ET’
It’s no secret that all found-footage genre movies are the same. Grab a couple of characters, give one of them a camera, and expose them to something supernatural that’s content to lurk just off-screen until the last five minutes. Everything else will just fall into place.

But that formula isn’t particularly family friendly, if only because that thing waiting a few feet to the left of the cast is usually plotting their violent doom.

That’s what sets Earth to Echo apart from the pack. It, too, follows a group of characters armed with a camera and a tendency to encounter unknown life forms. But all those familiar parts have been rearranged just enough to make it suitable for a much younger audience. > Read more.

Weekend Top 10


An eclectic array of events are taking place this weekend throughout the county. In the West End, we have the Richmond Wedding Expo, the Under the Stars Family Film Series and Henrico Theatre Company’s production of “Pump Boys and Dinettes.” In the eastern part of the county, we have a blood drive at the Eastern Henrico Recreation Center, Gallmeyer Farm’s annual Sweet Corn Festival and an origami workshop at Fairfield Library. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

New Italian restaurant opens in Short Pump

Charlottesville's Bella’s Restaurant recently opened a location in Short Pump Village, at 11408 West Broad Street. The restaurant is owned by Valeria Biesnti, a native of Rome who arrived in the U.S. at age 21 and later became a U.S. citizen. With her restaurants, Bisenti has sought to create an ambiance that welcomes diners in a casual setting, like her favorites from her hometown. > Read more.

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Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, 1800 Lakeside Ave., will present Flowers After 5 on Thursday evenings through August. Stroll through the gardens and enjoy wine, music and dining al fresco. There… Full text

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