Some urban hotels, restaurants and gas stations could soon get a perk now available only to their rural counterparts.

The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) is going to start installing those white on blue signs near exits which inform travelers what kinds of services are available, complete with a merchant’s logo. The first of these should go up around November.

But this perk is not free. Businesses are going to have to pay.

More to the point, they also 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 be a real benefit both to merchants in attracting businesses and to motorists looking for services.

But the real winner could be ADOT itself, which only recently got into the logo business.

Right now the state is projected to make $2.3 million from the signs on rural areas. ADOT’s Laura Douglas figures that once the urban component is fully installed, Arizona could generate up to $10 million a year, money that would be used for road projects.

All that essentially is found money for an agency that has only recently gotten into the business.

For two decades the state allowed a private company, Arizona Logo Sign Group, to contract with businesses for the on-highway signage 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.

All that changed when that prohibition was repealed four years ago. So ADOT decided to take over the business. Douglas said that coincided with road tax collections being depressed, with the state looking for additional sources of cash to build and maintain the roads as well as keep open the rest areas.

Holden, who also is publisher of the ADOT-run Arizona Highways magazine, said the latest move is just an extension of that — in a big way.

“Obviously, there’s far more revenue because there’s a lot more exists and a lot more qualified businesses in the urban areas,” he said.

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.

“We’ll have a better sense, at least at that interchange, of what people think,” Holden said.

How much folks are willing to bid, he said, is likely to depend on the competition.

Arizona has to live within the guidelines of the federal government’s Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices. These set out rules for how many signs can be erected and how far they have to be from each other to prevent motorist confusion.

“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.

That potentially means 24 merchants.

“What’s going to drive it are two factors: The number of qualified businesses at each interchange and the interest of those businesses,” Holden said. And regulations limit who can be interested to those businesses within three miles of the top of the ramp.

That doesn’t mean the person who operates the only nearby restaurant can get the on-highway signage for next to nothing.

Opening bids, said Holden, start at $1,300 per intersection. At that point, he said, a merchant has to decide how much more business a sign needs to generate to pay for itself.

After the 101-Indian School bidding, the next interchanges to get the signs will be slightly further up the road, at the Olive and Peoria avenue ramps. After that, he said, signs will be bid out on Interstate 17 from Dunlap to Bell roads.

Then, probably beginning in 2016, signs will be made available in Tucson, Flagstaff and Yuma.

Not all intersections will be available, with the issue being that question of both sign clutter and available right of way. Holden said that’s one reason that there will not be signs along the below-grade stretch of I-17 south of Dunlap Road.

And businesses at some exits will be entirely out of luck.

Federal rules governing sign placement say they can be erected only where it’s not just easy to get off but where it’s easy to immediately get back on. So those partial interchanges, with just an exit ramp but no nearby return, will not qualify.

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