Highway alerts, brought to you by ...
By Phil Kabler
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Travel on the West Virginia Turnpike and other major state routes soon will be brought to you by corporate sponsors.
The state Parkways Authority Thursday approved the installation of 17 message board signs on the 88-mile stretch of interstate.
Under an agreement with the state Division of Highways, the signs -- which will alert travelers to accidents, road closures or delays, and inclement weather ahead -- each will feature advertising to offset the costs of operating the 511 system.
"It's a very good program," Transportation Secretary Paul Mattox told authority members. "It will provide valuable services to people traveling on the West Virginia Turnpike and other state highways."
The 511 "Know Before You Go" program will incorporate the message boards, a WV511.org website, and a smartphone application to provide real-time travel alerts.
The system will cost about $1.5 million to install, and about $300,000 a year to operate.
The Division of Highways has retained Open Roads Consulting Inc. to find advertisers or an advertiser to sponsor the message boards, as well as NASCAR-style wraparound ads on the courtesy patrol vehicles.
Federal Highway Administration regulations limit advertising signage on interstate highways, but permit acknowledgement ads for the 511 signs, limited to a "sponsored by" with the company name and logo.
Mattox said West Virginia is one of four states without a 511 system.
He said the statewide system would be a valuable resource to alert drivers of road closures or delays far enough ahead to use alternative routes.
"If we can alert people well in advance, we can help people to avoid these tie-ups," he said.