What’s in a name? About $100m a year

A new dimension to the debate around public-private partnerships (PPPs): should your privatised or semi-privatised bridge/airport/toll road continue to be named after an important public servant? Or should its name, as one leading official has suggested, go to the highest bidder?

Meridiam, Macquarie and ACS have been shortlisted for the $1 billion PPP to reconstruct the Goethals Bridge, which connects the New York City borough of Staten Island to New Jersey.

These firms may yet be asked to take into account an innovative funding idea. Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro said last year that additional corporate “sponsorship” could mitigate future toll increases on the new Goethals and raise $100 million a year.

“The new bridge linking Staten Island to New Jersey should be branded to the highest corporate bidder,” said Molinaro in a statement last December. His statement also contended that “there is no significant reason why it’s named the Goethals”.

George Washington Goethals – the engineer who oversaw development of the Panama Canal and in whose honour the Goethals Bridge was named – might disagree were he still around today. But Molinaro said Goethals had no connection to Staten Island. 

As an aside, Molinaro seemed happier with the naming of the neighbouring Outerbridge Crossing, named after Eugenius Outerbridge, the first chairman of the Port Authority and a Staten Island resident.

“The Goethals is a very busy bridge, carrying 28 million vehicles a year, or 80,000 a day. The exposure a company would get from that affiliation is a lot more than Barclays Bank will get in Brooklyn at the [New Jersey] Nets’ new arena – and they’re paying $200 million over 20 years for naming rights to that,” Molinaro said.

One idea that has apparently not yet been floated is to write the names of the US’ most-despised corporations across the existing Goethals Bridge – which is set to be demolished as part of the PPP contract – and let citizens across the US line up to take a much-desired swing at it. You never know, that could be a real money-spinner.