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Monday, July 22, 2013
Q: After [Gov. Bob] McDonnell reopened the rest areas, GEICO has sponsored most of them. What are the revenues they are paying to sponsor them? Is it significant or entirely an advertisement thing?
Don Arnold, Troutville
A: You may recall that when the current resident of our Governor’s Mansion moved in, many of the rest areas in the commonwealth were closed as a cost saving measure. Gov. Bob McDonnell campaigned on the need to reopen them. Since shrinking state government was also promised, other options were explored for funding.
Completely privatizing rest areas isn’t allowed by the federal government except in rare cases, since fast food restaurants, gas stations and other businesses that count on traffic from highway exits tend to lobby against such things.
According to Greg Bilyeu, communications manager for VDOT, the rest areas and welcome centers in the commonwealth cost approximately $21 million annually to operate. CRH Catering Co., based in Connellsville, Pa., with offices in Richmond and Norfolk, was awarded a three-year contract to develop and manage a new program to generate additional revenue to offset costs at the rest areas.
CRH has to pay VDOT approximately $2 million each year in revenue from vending machines and ads, including those by GEICO, which seemed like a natural fit since the company sells car insurance and their advertising agency is based in Richmond. GEICO pays CRH about $410,000 annually for sponsorship rights through August 2014.
Q: I recently found a “Roanoke County Toll Roads” coupon/ticket. This was for a value of $5 and is “Good for Self-Propelled Vehicles.” Do you know anything about where and when this would have been used?
Bill Jones, Roanoke
A: See? Paying for roads isn’t a new issue! In this case it was the arrival of infernal “self-propelled vehicles,” or automobiles, that caused a problem in the early 1900s. I posed your question to ace researcher and archivist Dyron Knick in the Virginia Room of the Roanoke Public Library.
I’ll let him tell you the rest: According to Knick, “In 1914 the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors found that heavily laden wagons ground road surfaces into dust, which was then blown away by ‘swiftly’ moving automobiles. As a result, the continuous maintenance needed on roads was as costly as building the roadbed itself. With a gas tax still years away, something had to be done to pay for the upkeep of roads and contribute to the building of new ones .
“Enter the tollgate system. Tollgates could be found in many areas of the county, including Peters Creek and Williamson [roads] and [U.S.] 221. Manned tollgates would stop motorists (or coachmen) to collect the toll.
“Frequent travelers could buy a ‘coupon book’ and have it punched for the appropriate amount. These were sold at a discounted rate. (I believe this ticket is from such a book).
Such systems were not exclusive to Roanoke County. By 1929, all 48 states had passed the gas tax. This would supersede the need for toll roads, at least in this area.”
I’d hold on to your ticket — if the state brings back toll roads in the area you’re holding on to $2.95 of pure gold!
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Look for Tom Landon’s column on Mondays. Read the WOYM blog on roanoke.com anytime.
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