PHOENIX — Some urban hotels, restaurants and gas stations could soon get a perk now available only to their rural counterparts.
The Arizona Department of Transportation is going to start installing those white-on-blue signs near exits that tell travelers what kinds of services are available, complete with a merchant’s logo. The first of these may go up around November.
But it won’t be free, and businesses may have to compete: With only a limited number of signs at each exit — and a limited number of spaces on each one — ADOT is going to award the slots to the highest bidders.
Win Holden, who is in charge of the program, said the move should help both merchants and motorists.
But the real winner could be ADOT, which only recently got into the logo business.
Right now the state is projected to make $2.3 million from the signs in rural areas. ADOT’s Laura Douglas figures once the urban component is fully installed, Arizona could generate up to $10 million a year — money that would be used for road projects.
For two decades, the state allowed a private company, Arizona Logo Sign Group, to contract with businesses for the on-highway signs in rural areas. That’s the way it had to be because the law said the state could not make any money off the ability of the firm to erect the signs in the rights of way of state roads.
That prohibition was repealed four years ago. So ADOT decided to take over the business, a move that coincided with lower road-tax collections, Douglas said, forcing the state to look for additional sources of cash to build and maintain the roads and keep open the rest areas.
How many urban businesses will be interested, though, remains to be seen.
“The truth is, we don’t know,” Holden said.
The first test is coming on the Route 101/Agua Fria Freeway and Indian School Road. He said nearby merchants have until the middle of this month to submit their bids.
How much folks are willing to bid, he said, is likely to depend on the competition.
The number and placement of signs is limited by federal regulations.
“Obviously, we don’t want people terribly distracted by a vast number of signs,” Holden said.
In general, at any one exit there can be up to four signs in each direction. And each sign can hold up to six logos — potentially space for 24 merchants.
Participating businesses also must be within three miles of the top of the ramp. Opening bids start at $1,300 per intersection.
All of the currently planned locations are in the metro Phoenix area. The signs will probably come to Tucson, Flagstaff and Yuma in 2016. And not all intersections will be available. The issue of sign clutter and limited right of way where they can be safely placed will preclude some locations.