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A toll road, also known as a turnpike or tollway, is a public or private roadway for which a fee (or toll) is assessed for passage. It is a form of road pricing typically implemented to help recuperate the cost of road construction and maintenance, which (on public roads) amounts to a form of taxation.
Toll roads in some form have existed since antiquity, collecting their fees from passing travelers on foot, wagon or horseback; but their prominence increased with the rise of the automobile, and many modern tollways charge fees for motor vehicles exclusively. The amount of the toll usually varies by vehicle type, weight, or number of axles, with freight trucks often charged higher rates than cars.
Tolls are collected at points known as toll booths, toll houses, plazas, stations, bars, or gates. Some toll collection points are unmanned and the user deposits money in a machine which opens the gate once the right money has been paid. To cut costs and minimize time delay many tolls today are collected by some form of automatic or electronic toll collection equipment which communicates electronically with a toll payer's transponder. Toll booths are usually still required for the occasional users who do not have a transponder. The tolls are often prepaid or collected "automatically" from an affiliated credit card service. Some toll roads have "automated" toll enforcement systems that take photos of drivers who do not pay the tolls and their license plates. They typically get the toll bill along with a fine.
Criticisms of toll roads include the time taken to stop and pay the toll, and the cost of the toll booth operators—up to about one-third of revenue in some cases. Automated toll paying systems help minimize both these. Others object to paying "twice" for the same road: in fuel taxes and with tolls.
In addition to toll roads, toll bridges and toll tunnels are also used by public authorities to generate funds to repay the cost of building the bridge etc. Some tolls are set aside to pay for future maintenance or enhancement of infrastructure, or are applied as a general fund by local governments, not being earmarked for transport facilities. This is sometimes limited or prohibited by central government legislation. Also road congestion pricing schemes have been implemented in a limited number of urban areas as a transportation demand management tool to try to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution.
The original turnpikes — dating from the 15th century — were indeed spiked barriers, but they were designed to be placed across roads to prevent sudden attack by men on horseback. Later ones were horizontal timbers fitted with spikes, a version of what is called a cheval de frise, but the Oxford English Dictionary suggests that the mounting timbers of the originals may have been vertical, since a slightly later sense was of a horizontal cross of timbers turning on a vertical pin, set up to exclude horse-traffic from a footpath, which is in essence the device we now call a turnstile.
The word itself doesn’t come from turning spikes, but from turn and pike, the latter in the old sense of an infantry weapon with a pointed steel or iron head on a long wooden shaft. It’s the inclusion of turn here that suggests the pikes were the barrier, which could be turned aside about a vertical pivot to allow access.
From the middle of the 17th century onwards, many new toll roads were created in various parts of Britain through acts of Parliament. They were run by trusts, the tolls supposedly being put towards the cost of maintenance. Early toll gates were modelled on the old turnpike barriers and so the roads became known as turnpike roads, later shortened to just turnpikes.
Toll roads have existed for at least the last 2,700 years, as tolls had to be paid by travellers using the Susa–Babylon highway under the regime of Ashurbanipal, who reigned in the 7th century BC. 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 travellers across mountain passes. Tolls were used in the Holy Roman Empire in the 14th and 15th centuries.
A 14th-century example (though not for a road) is Castle Loevestein in the Netherlands, which was built at a strategic point where two rivers meet. Tolls were charged on boats sailing along the river.
Many modern European roads were originally constructed as toll roads in order to recoup the costs of construction, maintenance and as a source of tax money that is paid primarily by someone other than the local residents. In 14th-century England, some of the most heavily used roads were repaired with money raised from tolls by pavage grants. Widespread toll roads sometimes restricted traffic so much, by their high tolls, that they interfered with trade and cheap transportation needed to alleviate local famines or shortages.
Turnpike trusts were established in England and Wales from about 1706 in response to the need for better roads than the few and poorly-maintained tracks then available. Turnpike trusts were set up by individual Acts of Parliament, with powers to collect road tolls to repay loans for building, improving, and maintaining the principal roads in Britain. At their peak, in the 1830s, over 1,000 trusts administered around 30,000 miles (48,000 km) of turnpike road in England and Wales, taking tolls at almost 8,000 toll-gates. The trusts were ultimately responsible for the maintenance and improvement of most of the main roads in England and Wales, which were used to distribute agricultural and industrial goods economically. The tolls were a source of revenue for road building and maintenance, paid for by road users and not from general taxation. The turnpike trusts were gradually abolished from the 1870s. Most trusts improved existing roads, but some new roads, usually only short stretches, were also built. Thomas Telford's Holyhead road followed Watling Street from London but was exceptional in creating a largely new route beyond Shrewsbury, and especially beyond Llangollen. Built in the early 19th century, with many toll booths along its length, most of it is now the A5.
Some cities in Canada had toll roads in the 19th century. Roads radiating from Toronto required users to pay at toll gates along the street (Yonge Street, Bloor Street, Davenport Road, Kingston Road) and disappeared after 1895.
19th-century plank roads were usually operated as toll roads. One of the first U.S. motor roads, the Long Island Motor Parkway (which opened on October 10, 1908) was built by William Kissam Vanderbilt II, the great-grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt. The road was closed in 1938 when it was taken over by the state of New York in lieu of back taxes.
In the 20th century, road tolls were introduced in Europe to finance the construction of motorway networks and specific transport infrastructure such as bridges and tunnels. Italy was the first European country to charge motorway tolls, on a 50 km motorway section near Milan in 1924. It was followed by Greece, which made users pay for the network of motorways around and between its cities in 1927. Later in the 1950s and 1960s, France, Spain and Portugal started to build motorways largely with the aid of concessions, allowing rapid development of this infrastructure without massive State debts. Since then, road tolls have been introduced in the majority of the EU Member States.
Road tolls were levied traditionally for a specific access (e.g. city) or for a specific infrastructure (e.g. roads, bridges). These concepts were widely used until the last century. However, the evolution in technology made it possible to implement road tolling policies based on different concepts. The different charging concepts are designed to suit different requirements regarding purpose of the charge, charging policy, the network to the charge, tariff class differentiation etc.:
Time Based Charges and Access Fees: In a time-based charging regime, a road user has to pay for a given period of time in which he may use the associated infrastructure. For the practically identical access fees, the user pays for the access to a restricted zone for a period or several days.
Motorway and other Infrastructure Tolling: The term tolling is used for charging a well-defined special and comparatively costly infrastructure, like a bridge, a tunnel, a mountain pass, a motorway concession or the whole motorway network of a country. Classically a toll is due when a vehicle passes a tolling station, be it a manual barrier-controlled toll plaza or a free-flow multi-lane station.
Distance or Area Charging: In a distance or area charging system concept, vehicles are charged per total distance driven in a defined area.
Some toll roads charge a toll in only one direction. Examples include the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Sydney Harbour Tunnel and Eastern Distributor (these all charge tolls city-bound) in Australia, the Severn Bridges where M4 in Great Britain crosses the River Severn, in the United States, crossings between Pennsylvania and New Jersey operated by Delaware River Port Authority, crossings between New Jersey and New York operated by Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and in Hong Kong, the Lantau Link, which is the only vehicular access between Lantau Island and the rest of Hong Kong. This technique is practical where the detour to avoid the toll is large or the toll differences are small.
Traditionally tolls were paid by hand at a toll gate. Although payments may still be made in cash, it is more common now to pay by credit card, by pre-paid card, or by an electronic toll collection system. In some European countries, payment is made using stickers which are affixed to the windscreen.
Three systems of toll roads exist: open (with mainline barrier toll plazas); closed (with entry/exit tolls) and open road (no toll booths, only electronic toll collection gantries at entrances and exits, or at strategic locations on the mainline of the road). Modern toll roads often use a combination of the three, with various entry and exit tolls supplemented by occasional mainline tolls: for example the Massachusetts Turnpike or "MassPike," the Pennsylvania Turnpike and the New York State Thruway implement both systems in different sections.
On an open toll system, all vehicles stop at various locations along the highway to pay a toll. (Not to be confused with "open road tolling", where no vehicles stop to pay toll.) While this may save money from the lack of need to construct toll booths at every exit, it can cause traffic congestion while traffic queues at the mainline toll plazas (toll barriers). It is also possible for motorists to enter an 'open toll road' after one toll barrier and exit before the next one, thus travelling on the toll road toll-free. Most open toll roads have ramp tolls or partial access junctions to prevent this practice, known as "shunpiking".
With a closed system, vehicles collect a ticket when entering the highway. In some cases, the ticket displays the toll to be paid on exit. Upon exit, the driver must pay the amount listed for the given exit. Should the ticket be lost, a driver must typically pay the maximum amount possible for travel on that highway. Short toll roads with no intermediate entries or exits may have only one toll plaza at one end, with motorists traveling in either direction paying a flat fee either when they enter or when they exit the toll road. In a variant of the closed toll system, mainline barriers are present at the two endpoints of the toll road, and each interchange has a ramp toll that is paid upon exit or entry. In this case, a motorist pays a flat fee at the ramp toll and another flat fee at the end of the toll road; no ticket is necessary. In addition, with most systems, motorists may only pay tolls with cash and/or change; debit and credit cards are not accepted. However, some toll roads may have travel plazas with ATMs so motorists can stop and withdraw cash for the tolls.
The toll is calculated by the distance travelled on the toll road or the specific exit chosen. In the United States, for instance, the Kansas Turnpike, Ohio Turnpike, Pennsylvania Turnpike, New Jersey Turnpike, most of the Indiana Toll Road, and portions of the Massachusetts Turnpike, New York Thruway, and Florida's Turnpike currently implement closed systems.
The Union Toll Plaza on the Garden State Parkway was the first ever to use an automated toll collection machine. A plaque commemorating the event includes the first quarter collected at its toll booths.
The first major deployment of an RFID electronic toll collection system in the United States was on the Dallas North Tollway in 1989 by Amtech (see TollTag). The Amtech RFID technology used on the Dallas North Tollway was originally developed at Sandia Labs for use in tagging and tracking livestock. In the same year, the Telepass active transponder RFID system was introduced across Italy.
Highway 407 in the province of Ontario, Canada has no toll booths, and instead reads a transponder mounted on the windshields of each vehicle using the road (the rear licence plates of vehicles lacking a transponder are photographed when they enter and exit the highway). This made the highway the first all-automated toll highway in the world. A bill is mailed monthly for usage of the 407. Lower charges are levied on frequent 407 users who carry electronic transponders in their vehicles. The approach has not been without controversy: In 2003 the 407 ETR settled a class action with a refund to users.
Throughout most of the East Coast of the United States, E-ZPass (operated under the brands I-Pass in Illinois, i-Zoom in Indiana, and Fast Lane in Massachusetts) is accepted on almost all toll roads. Similar systems include SunPass in Florida, FasTrak in California, and ExpressToll in Colorado. 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. This reduces manpower at toll booths and increases traffic flow and fuel efficiency by reducing the need for complete stops to pay tolls at these locations.
By designing a tollgate specifically for electronic collection, it is possible to carry out open-road tolling, where the customer does not need to slow at all when passing through the tollgate. The U.S. state of Texas is testing a system on a stretch of Texas 121 that has no toll booths. Drivers without a TollTag have their license plate photographed automatically and the registered owner will receive a monthly bill, at a higher rate than those vehicles with TollTags.
The first all-electric toll road in the eastern United States, the InterCounty Connector (Maryland Route 200) was partially opened to traffic in February 2011. The first section of another all-electronic toll road, the Triangle Expressway, opened at the beginning of 2012 in North Carolina.
Some toll roads are managed under such systems as the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) system. Private companies build the roads and are given a limited franchise. Ownership is transferred to the government when the franchise expires. This type of arrangement is prevalent in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, India, South Korea, Japan and the Philippines. The BOT system is a fairly new concept that is gaining ground in the United States, with California, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia already building and operating toll roads under this scheme. Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Tennessee are also considering the BOT methodology for future highway projects.
The more traditional means of managing toll roads in the United States is through semi-autonomous public authorities. Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia manage their toll roads in this manner. While most of the toll roads in California, Delaware, Florida, Texas, and Virginia are operating under the BOT arrangement, a few of the older toll roads in these states are still operated by public authorities.
In France, all toll roads are operated by private companies, and the government takes a part of their profit.
Toll roads have been criticized as being inefficient in various ways:
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