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Old May 11th, 2011, 09:42 AM   #1
Botev1912
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What is the difference between the different words for high-speed roads

What is the difference between a freeway, highway, motorway, expressway, parkway, turnpike etc. There are so many words for this kinds of roads. Are they like synonyms or they have differences?
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Old May 11th, 2011, 01:01 PM   #2
Slagathor
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The trouble is that Europeans don't actually use the English words. And in English speaking countries they don't use the same words either. I think the British "Motorway" is kinda the same as the American "Interstate Highway"?

If someone could shed some light on it, that would be very helpful
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Old May 11th, 2011, 01:34 PM   #3
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Many European non-native English speakers often think that the word "highway" exclusively translates to Autobahn, Autopista, Autostrada, Autoroute, etcetera. However, the term is much wider, the word "highway" can also be applied to a Route Nationale, Bundesstraße, Drum National, Droga Krajowa, etcetera, basically any important road regardless of design standards.
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Old May 11th, 2011, 01:51 PM   #4
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In general I've come to think of motorway as "autostrada" and expressway as "superstrada", with Italian definitions. Of course that's reductive, as other nations have other definitions.
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Old May 11th, 2011, 01:56 PM   #5
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Basically, this is it:

Motorway:



Expressway:




But they are both highways...
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Old May 11th, 2011, 01:58 PM   #6
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I have a curiosity: is the term "highway" used in America also for normal 1+1 roads, maybe particularly important?
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Old May 11th, 2011, 02:14 PM   #7
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In England the word highway is any road. We have the 'highways agency' they maintain the roads etc.

We use the word motorway for the biggest and most important roads (M6, M25 etc). We sometimes use the word expressway e.g. Aston Expressway but its more of just a general name rather than having any meaning as there is a road very similar near me just called 'Silk Road'. We also use Parkway and more often than expressway. English parkways are not restricted access like in the US, but are still landscaped roads which set them apart from other general big roads...

But then to add more confusion there are some roads that are built to motorway standards which are only classed as A-roads...
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Old May 11th, 2011, 03:15 PM   #8
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First American to weigh in, I see. (Good morning!) Unless someone else posts while I'm babbling.

And I'll limit my answers to U.S. English, although I believe they work for Canada as well.*

Let's see....

"Expressway" and "freeway": there's a bit of confusion about this. When the sort of road that in England would be called a motorway began being built here, different terms seem to have been used in different regions - generally, Expressway in the Northeast and Midwest, Freeway in California.... Somewhere in Federal regulations there are definitions for these terms that use them for different sorts of road (a freeway being a full-fledged, um, freeway and an expressway something short of that), but as a life-long Northeasterner who's both a road geek and a language geek, I can tell you with absolute certaintly (and regardless of what anyone else on this forum says - we've already had this argument ) that to the general public in the Northeast (at least most of us), and probably as far west as Chicago, the terms mean the same thing, with "expressway" being the more common term. (When I was growing up, "freeway," to me, was a California word for "expressway.") The state of Pennsylvania uses them interchangeably: if you're approaching the end of a limited-access section of a state highway, you'll sometimes see a "Freeway Ends" sign, sometimes "Expressway Ends." To people in Texas or California, I believe (they can speak for themselves), an "expressway" is something different than a "freeway."

A "turnpike" was historically a toll road. In the U.S., there was a wave of turnpike-building starting in the 1790s and dying out a few decades later once people started using railroads for long-distance travel. The origin of the term is that there was a long bar - a "pike" - blocking the road, which the toll-taker would "turn" to let you pass once you'd paid. There are lots of non-limited-access, non-toll roads in the East (in areas settled early enough to have this sort of thing) that still have Turnpike (or the variant Pike) in their names because they used to be turnpikes and the name has remained in use. In the modern period, the term Turnpike appeared with the Pennsylvania Turnpike - (the first section of which opened in 1940) - which is a toll road. A limited-access road that is called a Turnpike would, generally speaking, be a toll road; the only exception I can think of is the Connecticut Turnpike, which was built as a toll road, had tolls removed in the 1980s, but still uses that name.

A "parkway" is a road - may be a freeway/expressway, may not - with a strip of parkland along it as a right of way. They usually prohibit commercial traffic (that is to say, trucks).

There are one-offs like the New York Thruway... I assume that people were sort of playing with the terms when they were first building this sort of thing.

"Highway" is a bit vague. Any of the above can be a "highway"; but an important road in a rural or suburban area - for example, a main road between two towns that has a number, regardless of what the configuration of the road is - can be as well.

When I get to "work" (I'm expecting a slow day....), I'll explain what "limited-access" means, since I was misusing it until I started studying law.

The term "motorway" is not used here at all, except as a British term. (I'd call a British motorway a motorway, although I wouldn't expect all Americans to be familiar with the word.)

*One thing in Canada I'll mention: native speakers of English in Quebec will use the French word "autoroute," with an anglicized pronunciation, at least to refer to Quebec's, um, limited-access roads (which Quebec officially calls "autoroute" in French). Don't know if they'd use that word for a road of that type outside of Quebec.
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Old May 11th, 2011, 03:22 PM   #9
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Very interesting and complete, although I am a bit confused about parkways. Is their status defined by the prohibition of commercial traffic or by the presence of parks? Or both?
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Old May 11th, 2011, 03:40 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ChrisZwolle View Post
Many European non-native English speakers often think that the word "highway" exclusively translates to Autobahn, Autopista, Autostrada, Autoroute, etcetera. However, the term is much wider, the word "highway" can also be applied to a Route Nationale, Bundesstraße, Drum Național, Droga Krajowa, etcetera, basically any important road regardless of design standards.
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Old May 11th, 2011, 04:03 PM   #11
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Concerning the "expressway" in the United States:

In the federal MUTCD it is defined as a divided highway with partial controlled access. This means by official standards, the U.S. expressway may have driveway access, uncontrolled intersections and traffic signals.

What they call expressways in Eastern U.S. are defined as "freeways" in the MUTCD. Hence, all Interstates and Interstate-like roads in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, etc., are freeways and not expressways by MUTCD definitions. But because these states have not yet adopted this version of the MUTCD, they still call these expressways, despite being technically freeways.

The word "freeway" does not mean it is free of tolls, although it is usually associated that way. Freeway means a free flow of traffic, uninterrupted by traffic lights or uncontrolled access. Because of the possible confusion, no toll road with freeway standards is actually called a freeway. Freeway thus, is a design standard, and does not imply it is tolled or toll-free. The Pennsylvania Turnpike, for instance, is a toll road and located in an area where they call them expressways. However, it is a freeway by design. The word freeway was also used for the early Chinese expressways and is still used in Taiwan.
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Old May 11th, 2011, 04:18 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by g.spinoza View Post
Very interesting and complete, although I am a bit confused about parkways. Is their status defined by the prohibition of commercial traffic or by the presence of parks? Or both?
There were a lot of parkways that were built in the New York area during the 20s and 30s, the purpose of which was to make it possible for people to get from the city to various state parks. So their purpose was recreational. It probably seemed to make sense, in that context, not to allow trucks, and the bridges (overpasses) are actually too low for trucks to pass under*. The strip of parkland was probably meant to both beautify the road and prevent commercial development along it (which leads me to the "limited access" thing). These roads pass through areas that have become suburbanized since then, so they're now serving as regular freeways/expressways for commuters, but they're still non-comercial.

*Once in a while you'll hear on a New York area traffic report that a truck is stuck on the Hutchinson River Parkway, or wherever - someone missed a sign or figured he could get away with it for a couple of miles...and then got to one of these low bridges....

I forgot to say what an Interstate is: about 1956 - when more and more states were starting to build this sort of thing on their own - Congress authorized funding for a "National System of Interstate and Defense Highways": these highways would be funded (to about 90 percent) by the Federal government, and had to meet certain standards, which basically boil down to they need to be freeways/expressways. (They also can't be toll roads, although some toll roads now have Interstate numbers just for the sake of continuity of numbering). So all Interstates are, or ought to be, freeeways/expressways, but not all freeways/expressways are Interstates. (There's one road in Wyoming which somehow got an Interstate number despite having traffic lights and such - it connects the state capital (Cheyenne) to Interstate 80, which passes the city. There are also, on paper, Interstates in Alaska, which aren't freeways, but they're also not shown on maps or on the signage. I don't know if the state got Interstate funding to eventually upgrade them or what. I suspect local politicians are to blame for these anomalies.)

Now, "limited access":

When I was a kid in the early '70s, you could see in the legends on road maps a heading "limited access" (or sometimes "controlled access") highways, and then all the symbols that went with that - whatever sort of color they used to show that sort of road, the symbols for exits, etc.... I always assumed limited access was a good generic term for the type of road where you didn't have cross-traffic, traffic lights, etc. When I got to law school, I came across a definition of "limited access" that means something different: traditionally in Anglo-American law a property owner has the right to access any road that passes through, or borders, his property. Early in the automobile period, someone realized that this could be a problem for the sort of road we're talking about, so when a state was planning to build something like this, the legislation would specifically provide that that right of access didn't apply to this road.

So at least in the context of real-estate and land-use law, a "limited-access road" is any road that can't be accessed by adjoining property owners. Since it follows from this that you won't get strips of businesses along them, and since it makes sense to "limit access" in this way when you're building a high-speed road without grade-level intersections, the end result tends to be that a given road will be limited-access by both definitions, if I'm making sense, so it may not matter, practically speaking, which definition you use. But part of the reason for parkways may be that if they're run through a strip of parkland there are no adjoining property owners - the private property will end where the parkland begins, some distance from the actual road.
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Old May 11th, 2011, 04:27 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by ChrisZwolle View Post
Concerning the "expressway" in the United States:

In the federal MUTCD it is defined as a divided highway with partial controlled access. This means by official standards, the U.S. expressway may have driveway access, uncontrolled intersections and traffic signals.

What they call expressways in Eastern U.S. are defined as "freeways" in the MUTCD. Hence, all Interstates and Interstate-like roads in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, etc., are freeways and not expressways by MUTCD definitions. But because these states have not yet adopted this version of the MUTCD, they still call these expressways, despite being technically freeways.

The word "freeway" does not mean it is free of tolls, although it is usually associated that way. Freeway means a free flow of traffic, uninterrupted by traffic lights or uncontrolled access. Because of the possible confusion, no toll road with freeway standards is actually called a freeway. Freeway thus, is a design standard, and does not imply it is tolled or toll-free. The Pennsylvania Turnpike, for instance, is a toll road and located in an area where they call them expressways. However, it is a freeway by design. The word freeway was also used for the early Chinese expressways and is still used in Taiwan.
A minor quibble - and I know you and I have disagreed about this in the past but I'll try to keep it under control - I'd say that Northeasterners using the term "expressway" instead of "freeway" has nothing to do with whether the states have adopted this version of the MUTCD; it's just the way usage has developed. Most members of the public have never heard of, let alone read, the MUTCD. The MUTCD has the jurisdiction, if I can put it that way, to determine the usage of specialists, but not of the general public - language just doesn't work that way.

People reading my posts on this thread may have noticed I keep hesitating on a generic term and then being inconsistent about which one I use - saying things like "the type of road we're talking about," because there's really no settled generic term in my mind: among Northeasterners I'd probably go ahead and say "expressway," but I'd avoid it among other audiences, because of the ambiguity you mention; on the other hand, "freeway" still feels a bit odd to me unless I'm talking about a part of the country where that's the local term.

We've had this discussion, by the way, at AARoads. http://www.aaroads.com/forum/index.php?topic=4057.0
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Old May 11th, 2011, 04:43 PM   #14
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In the US there is a difference in how freeway and expressway are legally defined and how they're used in everyday language. A perfect example difference legally is US 127 in Michigan north of I-94, it's full freeway except for a 16 mile gap north of Lansing where it is expressway. The expressway portions are divided highway, but still have at grade intersections with streets.

In everyday useage in the US they're used pretty much interchangably, but there are local/regional preferences in Michigan the freeway is prefered term for a motorway. Since all lot of urban freeway in US are are named after someone or something you can get in idea of what it is. In Detroit I-75 is known as the Chrysler Fwy, I-96 is the Jeffries. Constrast to Chicago where expressway is prefered. I-94 is the Edens Exwy, I -90 the Kennedy Exwy etc.
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Old May 11th, 2011, 04:47 PM   #15
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As someone from the UK, I would regard Interstates, Freeways and Expressways to fall into the same catgory as being 'special roads' - divided highways with limited access, or what we in the UK would call roads only with grade separated junctions and without at grade junctions (at grade typically being roundabouts, signalised junctions or plain and simple junctions which require gaps in the main road). The main difference is their functional role in the roads hierarchy. I'll try and explain below.

Interstates and Motorways are very similar in that they both have a stratetgic inter-regional (or indeed 'interstate') function. Meanwhile there are Freeways and Expressways which have the same characteristics as Interstates but are not as strategic. They are likely to be a commuter route or provide fast access from an interstate to a more local destination for example.

Our strategic inter-regional road network differs insofar that they include the Interstate equivalent - motorways but also other non-motorway dual carriageways (divided highways) as well as single carriageway (not divided) highways, in addition to motorways - that all create what is called a national Trunk Road Network and they are managed nationally by the Highways Agency.

'A' class Trunk roads can be a combination of high quality restricted dual carriageways (divided highways) with limited access and lower standard quality road - the only common purpose being that they link key destinations.

Non trunk roads also include A roads but they are not strategic. They are instead called primary and non-primary routes. Again standards can vary from limited access dual carriageways (equivalent here to Freeways and Expressways) to very poor standard routes. As they have a more local function, they are managed and maintained by local authorities (quite badly in some cases). They are equivalent perhaps to local state and county roads, whiuch also include Freeways and Expressways in the US. Other local road include 'B' secondary routes and smaller 'C' roads. Quite often C roads are not identified on signs because of their very local nature.


Back to Trunk Roads and A roads again, because they do vary widely in standards. Most have a mix of at grade and grade separated (restricted access) junctions and tend not to have a full shoulder, although many have 1-2m hard strips. Some though are classed as 'special roads' but do not have motorway status. The A42 is a good example - aside from not having proper hard shoulders, it continues seamlessley from the M42 to meet with the M1 motorway in the Midlands, which begs the question, why wasn't it built with shoulders and called the M42 in the first place? Similar near motorway roads include sections of the A2, A14, A55 (which has a special restricted section with shoulders) and others, to name but a few. Michelin Maps identify these sections as dual carriageways with motorway characteristics.

To add to the confusion even further, some A Roads with motorway regulations are called A*(M) roads. Parts of the A1 are called A1(M) for example.

There are a number of oddities however. There a a few motorways which have more of a local function. They include very short motorways in urban areas such as the A58(M), A64(M), A57(M), A167(M) etc. In London the A40(M), M41 and the two stretches of the A102(M) have been downgraded to local 'A' road status because they are not part of the trunk road network and are managed by Transport for London.

I dare say I have made this even more confusing.
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Old May 11th, 2011, 04:53 PM   #16
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A minor quibble - and I know you and I have disagreed about this in the past but I'll try to keep it under control - I'd say that Northeasterners using the term "expressway" instead of "freeway" has nothing to do with whether the states have adopted this version of the MUTCD; it's just the way usage has developed. Most members of the public have never heard of, let alone read, the MUTCD. The MUTCD has the jurisdiction, if I can put it that way, to determine the usage of specialists, but not of the general public - language just doesn't work that way.
I think it originates from the NYC area. In the 1930's, they constructed parkways, and from the 1950's (pre-Interstate), they constructed general purpose freeway-standard roads that were called "expressways" at the time, and still survives in a large region to this day. The term "expressway" used in the MUTCD didn't became a national standard until 1966.

Interestingly, not the entire east uses the word expressway, and not the entire (mid)west uses the word freeway (Georgia and Michigan vs Illinois for instance)
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Old May 11th, 2011, 04:56 PM   #17
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I wasn't counting Georgia as the Northeast. Since it isn't.

But I think that if you go back far enough - like the early '50s before they were actually Interstates - what are now I-75 and 85 through Atlanta had names like "Northwest Expressway."
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Old May 11th, 2011, 05:12 PM   #18
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Quote:
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Very interesting and complete, although I am a bit confused about parkways. Is their status defined by the prohibition of commercial traffic or by the presence of parks? Or both?
There is no national legal definition of a parkway. In the NYC area you have these scenic freeways with no commercial traffic. In Kentucky they have a system of state maintainted regular freeways called parkways. But in suburban Detroit Metro Parkway is wide arterial road.

http://www.kentuckyroads.com/parkways/


http://maps.google.com/maps?ie=UTF8&...265.15,,0,0.37
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Old May 11th, 2011, 09:48 PM   #19
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What is the difference between a freeway, highway, motorway, expressway, parkway, turnpike etc. There are so many words for this kinds of roads. Are they like synonyms or they have differences?
Simple answer:

Common Terms:
Motorway, freeway, autobahn, autostrada, etc all describe a route that has limited access at grade separated junctions. Also, each roadway for traffic going in opposite directions, is physically separated by a barrier, or central reservation. These are generally 2+2 or more, though there are places where it's 1+1. The speed limits can vary from as little as 80 km/h, to no limit at all.

Highway is a very general term. Generally, these routes are 1+2 or 2+2 outside of urban/ built up areas. The 2+2 sections may have a central barrier or reservation. Usually, the intersections are at grade, though there can be grade separated junctions. speed limits range in general, from 80 km/h to usually 110 km/h, 70 km/h or less in built up areas or sections where a lower limit is required.

Throughway, parkway, expressway are historic terms for freeways in the US. The New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Wasington D.C. areas all have freeways that use those terms as part of the route's name. (Cross Bronx Expressway, NYC, for example) Less common, is Tollway. It's another term for a toll highway or freeway.
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Old May 11th, 2011, 09:55 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fargo Wolf View Post
Simple answer:

Common Terms:
Motorway, freeway, autobahn, autostrada, etc all describe a route that has limited access at grade separated junctions. Also, each roadway for traffic going in opposite directions, is physically separated by a barrier, or central reservation. These are generally 2+2 or more, though there are places where it's 1+1. The speed limits can vary from as little as 80 km/h, to no limit at all.

Highway is a very general term. Generally, these routes are 1+2 or 2+2 outside of urban/ built up areas. The 2+2 sections may have a central barrier or reservation. Usually, the intersections are at grade, though there can be grade separated junctions. speed limits range in general, from 80 km/h to usually 110 km/h, 70 km/h or less in built up areas or sections where a lower limit is required.

Throughway, parkway, expressway are historic terms for freeways in the US. The New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Wasington D.C. areas all have freeways that use those terms as part of the route's name. (Cross Bronx Expressway, NYC, for example) Less common, is Tollway. It's another term for a toll highway or freeway.
If there are any "Expressways" in Los Angeles, I don't believe they're freeways. "Freeway" is characteristically part of the proper name (Hollywood Freeway, San Diego Freeway....) of named limited-access roads there. You forgot Philadelphia, among other places, and also Toronto (the Gardiner), which is not in the U.S.
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