New Jersey's turnpike rest stops may be named for famous people with connections to the state, but it's connections to cash that are proving enticing to officials seeking ways to close the state's budget gap.
The state's new transportation commissioner is considering selling naming rights to the Turnpike's 12 stops.
"We're just in the early discussion stages — throwing around ideas and asking questions — but that's what leads to creative solutions," James Simpson told The Philadelphia Inquirer. Simpson said naming rights also could be sold for the eight rest areas on the Garden State Parkway.
"About two million motorists use the turnpike and parkway every day," Simpson said. "I want to maximize the value of the 20 rest stops that serve those people."
Turnpike spokesman Joe Orlando said the authority is "definitely on board" with exploring possible revenue streams.
The turnpike's 12 rest stops are named for some of New Jersey's most famous former residents, from a football coach (Vince Lombardi) to presidents (Woodrow Wilson, Grover Cleveland) and poets (Whitman, Joyce Kilmer).
A rest-stop naming rights deal might bring in about $1 million a year, said Eric Smallwood, vice president of Front Row Marketing Services and an expert in naming rights.
Smallwood noted that Geico had agreed to pay $3.2 million over two years for signage on toll plazas at the George Washington Bridge before the deal was scuttled in 2007 by lawmakers who complained they had not been consulted by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
The authority did sign a deal to get $1.7 million a year from HSBC for ads at JFK and La Guardia airports in New York, he said.
Not everyone favors the change.
"It's kind of shameless," historian and author Paul Schopp told the newspaper. "I understand the need for money, but to replace the name of historic figures with the name of someone because he's got enough bucks to have a rest stop named after him?"
Sandy Levins, president of the board of trustees of the Camden County Historical Society in Camden, offered a compromise.
"You could keep the name and add a corporate sponsorship," she said. "The corporation could add a sign that speaks of sponsorship. That way they could be seen as getting behind the history of New Jersey."