Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Toll 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 gas tax funds. Tolls have been placed on roads at various times in history.

Table of contents
1 Early toll roads
2 Tolls in England
3 Tolls in the United States
4 Other countries
5 Technology
6 List of toll roads in wikipedia
7 See also

Early toll roads

Early references include the (mythical) Greek Ferryman Charon charging a toll to ferry (dead) people across the river Styx. 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.

Tolls in England

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 Statue 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 react to this was to use legislation to try and 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 water-logged. 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

Tolls in the United States

In the United States, toll roads began with the Lancaster Turnpike in the 1790s, within Pennsylvania, connecting Philadelphia and Lancaster. 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.

After 1940 with the Pennsylvania Turnpike, toll roads saw a resurgence, this time to fund limited access highways. By 1956, most limited access highways in the eastern United States were toll roads. In that year, the 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 system.

Since the completion of the interstate highway program, states are again looking at toll financing for roads, as federal dollars are not as available.

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 1980's. This was closely monitored by authorities in Norway and Oslo got it's first toll ring 1987. Any driver wishing to enter Oslo by car had to pay the fee. Revenues 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 circumferating 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.


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, and raises hope of eliminating, the delay. It 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.

List of toll roads in wikipedia

See also