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You can’t fault them for trying.

In the latest attempt to ease congestion on U.S. 50 at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, transportation officials in Maryland attempted to auction off advertising space in exchange for paying the tolls during peak Friday hours. So far, there have had no takers.

The bridge, which allows vacationers to cross the bay on the way to Ocean City, Md. is known for its horrendous traffic conditions on Friday’s during the summer especially leading up to holiday weekends. Congestion is caused by heavy traffic volume and the required $2.50 toll to cross over to the Eastern Shore. The same problem greets weekend warriors Sunday on the way home.

The plan was for the state to solicit bids from companies wishing to sponsor rush hour on different Fridays during June. A company would pay between $52,000 and $61,000 (increasing as the month progressed), which would pay the toll for drivers during certain hours on Friday. It’s sort of like buying a round of drinks for everyone in the bar. Drivers would then be undeterred as they sped through the toll plaza on the way to the beach.

In exchange for the cash, the company would be allowed to advertise on the bridge by flying banners during the week they sponsored the toll.

So far, there are no takers though the Maryland Lottery has paid for the first Friday in June. Most companies are already enduring slow economic times and are reluctant to throw out large sums of cash for such an untested project. Perhaps some companies don’t want to be the first.

Timing is everything. Had the Maryland Transportation Authority dreamed up this idea five years ago, companies would have been tripping over one another to bid on this opportunity. Maryland would have turned a profit with the free-spending dot-com companies jockeying for ad space on the Bay Bridge. Maryland probably could have paid for tolls during the Memorial Day and Independence Day weekends with this revenue.

As it stands now, the sponsored toll program is going nowhere. But Maryland officials should be commended for their efforts. Just as ball parks make money by selling ad space on the outfield walls and scoreboards, states can raise money selling ads on bridges.

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