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Encyclopedia > Turnpike road

A toll road, turnpike or tollpike is a road on which a toll authority collects a fee for use. Similarly there are toll bridges and toll tunnels. Other non-toll roads are financed using other sources of revenue, most typically gasoline tax funds. Tolls have been placed on roads at various times in history, often to generate funds for repayment of toll revenue bonds used to finance constructions and/or operation.


Early toll roads

Early references include the (mythical) Greek Ferryman Charon charging a toll to ferry (dead) people across the river Acheron. Aristotle and Pliny refer to tolls in Arabia and other parts of Asia. In India, before the 4th century BC the Arthasastra notes the use of tolls. Germanic tribes charged tolls to travelers across mountain passes. Tolls were used in the Holy Roman Empire in the 14th century and 15th century.

In the 14th century, Castle Loevestein in the Netherlands was built at a strategic point where 2 rivers met, and charged tolls to boats sailing the river.

Toll Roads in The United Kingdom

Until the seventeenth century most roads in England, other than surviving Roman roads, were simple tracks through the earth, the term road indicating no more than a right of passage. Responsibility for the upkeep of the roads rested with three groups, the King (the King's Highways), the aristocracy owning the land over which the roads ran and the monasteries. The great land-owning monasteries were the most active in road and also bridge maintenance. The dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII greatly reduced the quality of the roads.

Parliament passed the upkeep of bridges to local settlements or the containing county under the 1531 Statute of Bridges and in 1555 the care of roads was similarly devolved to the parishes as statute labour. Every adult inhabitant of the parish was obliged to work four consecutive days a year on the roads, providing their own tools, carts and horses. The work was overseen by an unpaid local appointee, the Surveyor of Highways. It was not until 1654 that road rates were introduced. However, the improvements offered by paid labour were offset by the rise in the use of wheeled vehicles greatly increasing wear to the road surfaces. The government reaction to this was to use legislation to limit the use of wheeled vehicles and also to regulate their construction. A vain hope that wider rims would be less damaging briefly led to carts with sixteen inch wheels, they did not cause ruts but neither did they roll and flatten the road as was hoped.

The first turnpike road, whereby travellers paid tolls to be used for road upkeep, was authorised in 1663 for a section of the Great North Road in Hertfordshire. The term turnpike refers to a gate on which sharp pikes would be fixed as a defence against cavalry. Most English gates were not built to this standard, of the first three gates two were found to be easily avoided.

The first turnpike trust was established by Parliament through a Turnpike Act in 1706, placing a section of the London-Coventry-Chester road in the hands of a group of trustees. The trustees could erect gates as they saw fit, demand statute labour or a cash equivalent, and appoint surveyors and collectors, in return they repaired the road and put up mileposts. Initially trusts were established for limited periods, around twenty years. The expectation was that the trust would borrow the money to repair the road and repay that debt over time with the road then reverting to the local authorities. In reality the initial debt was rarely paid-off and the trusts were renewed as needed. The turnpike trusts were initially set up along the thirteen main roads from London, a process that lasted until 1750. From 1751 until 1772 there was a flurry of interest in turnpike trusts and a further 390 were established. By 1825 over 1,000 trusts controlled 25,000 miles of road in England and Wales.

The quality of early trust roads was very variable - standards for road construction were unknown and while they were better the roads still tended to become easily waterlogged. Road construction improved slowly, initially through the efforts of individual surveyors, such as John Metcalf in Yorkshire in the 1760s. But nineteenth century engineers made great advances, notably Thomas Telford and John Loudon McAdam. The work of Telford on the Holyhead Road in the 1820s reduced the journey time of the London mail coach from 45 hours to just 27 hours, the best mail coach speeds rose from 5-6 mph to 9-10 mph. In 1843 the London to Exeter mail coach could complete the 170 miles in 17 hours.

The rise of railway transport largely halted the improving schemes of the turnpike trusts. The London-Birmingham railway almost instantly halved the tolls income of the Holyhead Road. Unable to earn sufficient from tolls alone the trusts took to requiring taxes from the local parishes. The system was never properly reformed but from the 1870s Parliament stopped renewing the acts and roads began to revert to local authorities, the last trust vanished in 1895. The Local Government Act, 1888 created county councils and gave them responsibility for maintaining the major roads. The abiding relic of the English toll roads is the number of houses with names like "Turnpike Cottage", and occasional roadname: Turnpike Lane in north London has given its name to an Underground station

Today, the only tolls on roads in the United Kingdom are mainly tolled bridges and tunnels (e.g. Dartford Crossing, Second Severn Crossing, Mersey Tunnels, Tyne Tunnel), congestion charging schemes, some small, privately-owned toll roads, (e.g. in Dulwich College), and the recently-built and privately-financed M6 Toll, potentially the first of a new generation of toll roads.

Toll Roads in the United States

A toll road in the United States is often called a turnpike. The term turnpike may have originated from the turnstile or gate which blocked passage until the fare was paid at a toll house (or toll booth in current terminology).

History, funding through tolls

Companies were formed to build, improve, and maintain a particular section of roadway, and tolls were collected from users to finance the enterprise. The enterprise was usually named to indicate the locale of its roadway, often including the name of one or both of the termini. The word turnpike came into common use in the names of these roadways and companies, and is essentially used interchangeably with toll road in current terminology.

In the United States, toll roads began with the Lancaster Turnpike in the 1790s, within Pennsylvania, connecting Philadelphia and Lancaster. In New York State, the Great Western Turnpike was started in Albany in 1799 and eventually extended, by several alternate routes, to the Finger Lakes region. Toll roads peaked in the mid 19th century, and by the turn of the twentieth century most toll roads were taken over by state highway departments. In some instances, a quasi-governmental authority was formed, and toll revenue bonds were issued to raise funds for construction and/or operation of the facility.

With the development, mass production, and popular embrace of the automobile, faster and higher capacity roads were needed. In the 1920s limited access highways appeared. Their main characteristics were dual roadways with access points limited to (but not always) grade-separated interchanges. Their dual roadways allowed high volumes of traffic, the need for no or few traffic lights along with relatively gentle grades and curves allowed higher speeds. Bicyclists also campaigned for good roads early on.

The first limited access highways were Parkways, so called because of their often park-like landscaping and, in the metropolitan New York City area, they connected the region's system of parks. When the German Autobahns built in the 1930s introduced higher design standards and speeds, road planners and road-builders in the United States started developing and building toll roads to similar high standards. The Pennsylvania Turnpike, which largely followed the path of a partially-built railroad, was the first of these, opening in 1940 and starting a resurgence of toll collection, this time to fund limited access highways.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, after an interruption by World War II, the US resumed building toll roads, but to even higher standards. One of these roads, the New York State Thruway, had standards that became the prototype for the U.S. Interstate Highway System. Several other major toll-roads which connected with the Pennsylvania Turnpike were established before the creation of the Interstate Highway System. These were the Indiana Toll Road, Ohio Turnpike, and New Jersey Turnpike.

Interstate Highway System

By 1956, most limited access highways in the eastern United States were toll roads. In that year, the federal Interstate highway program was established, funding non-toll roads with 90% federal dollars and 10% state match, giving little incentive for states to expand their turnpike systems. Funding rules initially restricted collections of tolls on newly funded roadways, bridges, and tunnels. In some situations, expansion or rebuilding of a toll facility using Interstate Highway Program funding resulted in the removal of existing tolls. This occurred in Virginia on Interstate 64 at the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel when a second parallel roadway to the regional 1958 bridge-tunnel was completed in 1976.

Since the completion of the initial portion of the interstate highway system, regulations were changed, and portions of toll facilities have been added to the system. Some states are again looking at toll financing for new roads and maintenance, to supplement limited federal funding. In some areas, new road projects have been completed with public-private partnerships funded by tolls, such as the Pocahontas Parkway near Richmond, Virginia, which features a costly high level bridge over the shipping channel of the James River and connects Interstate 95 with Interstate 295 to the south of the city.

Toll Collection

In Illinois, coins and I-Pass are used in every toll plaza instead of toll tickets. On the east coast, similar systems include E-ZPass, Smart Tag, or SunPass. The systems use a small radio transponder mounted in or on a customer's vehicle to deduct toll fares from a pre-paid account as the vehicle passes through the toll barrier, reducing manpower at toll booths and increasing traffic flow and fuel efficiency by reducing the need for complete stops to pay tolls at these locations. Some jurisdictions will fine a user for speeding if they pass through two E-ZPass tollgates in such time that they must have been going over the legal limit to do so.

Toll Avoidance (Legal)

A practice known as shunpiking evolved which entails finding another route for the specific purpose of avoiding payment of tolls. In some situations where the tolls were increased or felt to be unreasonably high, informal shunpiking by individuals escalated into a form of boycott by regular users, with the goal of applying the financial stress of lost toll revenue.

Tolls in the People's Republic of China

Nearly all Chinese expressways and express routes charge tolls, although they are not often networked from one toll expressway to another. However, beginning with the Jingshen Expressway, tolls are gradually being networked. Given the size of the nation, however, the task is rather large in size!

China National Highways, which are not expressways, but "grade-A" routes, also charges tolls.

Other countries

Outside the United States, many countries use private (or public) toll road companies to build their intercity roads. In Europe the most substantial use of toll roads is in France, where most of the Autoroutes carry quite heavy tolls: at least some traffic seems to be displaced onto local roads as a result. In a number of countries the companies have often fallen in and out of the public sector, and many have had financial problems. Singapore introduced a road toll as a means to discourage car traffic into the congested city in the early 1980s. This was closely monitored by authorities in Norway and Oslo got its first toll ring road in 1987. Any driver wishing to enter Oslo by car had to pay the fee. Revenue was mainly spent on investment in the infrastructure. The lack of general protest and high income from such toll rings has made them very popular and today toll rings are circumscribing Trondheim, Bergen, Stavanger and Kristiansand. The success is only partial: the toll rings have become unpopular and regarded as an extra random tax, new infrastructure has not been developed as expected, and the confidence in the road authorities has been dented.

Germany introduced a truck toll-system via satellite (Toll Collect) in 01 Jan 2005.

Austria, the Czech Republic, and Switzerland have toll motorways (some, though, are toll-free). Payment in both countries are done in the form of "vignettes", or stickers being affixed to the car's front window, which are valid for a certain amount of time. The time is always one calendar year in Switzerland; in Austria cheaper vignettes with shorter validity are also available.


The term turnpike refers to the pike or long stick that was held across the road, and only raised when the traveler paid the toll.

Travelers have disliked toll roads not only for the cost of the toll, but also for the delays at toll booths.

An adaptation of aircraft "identification friend or foe" technology, called electronic toll collection, is lessening the delay incurred in toll collection, and raises hope of eliminating it entirely in the future. The electronic system determines whether the cars passing are enrolled in the program, alerts enforcers for those that are not, and debits electronically the accounts of registered cars without their stopping, or even opening a window. Currently, DSRC is used as a wireless protocol. Other systems are based on GPRS/GSM and GPS technology. However the introduction of such a system (for trucks only) in Germany has been riddled with numerous problems of technical, administrative and political nature, leading to widespread ridicule in the media.

Highway 407 in the province of Ontario, Canada is one of the most technologically sophisticated toll highways in this respect. It has absolutely no toll booths. Instead, all vehicles are photographed when they enter and exit the highway. A bill is later mailed for monthly usage of the 407. Lower charges are levied on frequent 407 users who carry electronic transponders in their vehicles. Another road with the same technologies is Israel's first toll road, Highway 6, which is currently under construction. It will go from Nahariyya to Beer-Sheva via Jerusalem, where it ends currently. At each exit, cameras will photograph each vehicle and bill them after each use based on their license plate number. It will be completed in 2007.

See also

External links

  • Turnpikes and Toll Roads in Nineteenth-Century America (http://eh.net/encyclopedia/Klein.Majewski.Turnpikes.php) (EH.Net Economic History encyclopedia)

  Results from FactBites:
turnpike. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001-05 (698 words)
The first American turnpike road was a state enterprise, authorized by a Virginia act of 1785.
Thereafter turnpikes were regularly private enterprises, and turnpike corporations held the leadership in the development of the American corporation system.
Famous turnpikes included the post road from New York to Boston (now part of U.S. 1), the two roads from New York to Albany (on the two sides of the Hudson River), and the roads from Albany to Buffalo, main lines of communication with the developing West.
Toll road at AllExperts (2952 words)
The first turnpike road, whereby travellers paid tolls to be used for road upkeep, was authorised in 1663 for a section of the Great North Road in Hertfordshire.
Toll roads peaked in the mid 19th century, and by the turn of the twentieth century most toll roads were taken over by state highway departments.
Some state turnpike commissions such as the Ohio Turnpike have debated implementing E-ZPass but have found that such as system would be ineffective because most of the people who use the turnpike are not commuters, are from states that have no ETS on turnpikes, or are from states that don't have a turnpike at all.
  More results at FactBites »



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