- For other uses, see Highway (disambiguation).
A highway is a major road within a city, or linking several cities together. It includes roads known as interstate highway, freeway, motorway and autobahn, where a full description varies by country. Generally, a highway is a road which has multiple lanes of traffic in each direction, often with a physical division (median) between opposing traffic, and separate access ramps to and from the highway which are more widely separated than connections on a standard road and are often grade-separated. A highway may prohibit access by pedestrians and limit what vehicles may travel on it.
Historically, a highway was any major road travelling a long distance outside of a city. Early roads between cities would sometimes suffer from highwaymen who would rob people travelling the route.
In the 20th century, however, the word generally came to be used only for high-speed, often specially-designed automobile routes. On 10 September, 1913 the first paved coast-to-coast highway opened in the US.
Highways usually have a higher speed limit than other roads because they have additional lanes and are designed for driving at a higher speed. In remote areas, a highway may have rest areas where motorists may stop and relax before resuming a long drive.
By convention, the lane nearest the median on a multi-lane highway is called the passing lane.
The United States has a vast network of national highways (Interstate highways) linking the different U.S. states together, as does Australia albeit on a much smaller scale and mostly concentrated on the southeast coastline. Some highways, like the Pan-American Highway or the European routes, bridge multiple countries. With the latter a single road will have several national designations in addition to the European one.
Probably the most famous highway in the United States is Route 66, as immortalised in the song "(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66", while if one follows Australia's Highway 1 the driver can travel from state capital to state capital, almost the entire way around the whole country.
The longest single national highway in the world is the Trans Canada Highway, which runs from Victoria, British Columbia, on the Pacific Coast, through ten provinces to the Atlantic Coast, at St. John's, Newfoundland.
The terms used for various types of highways such as freeway, expressway, motorway and autobahn, vary between countries or even regions within a country. In some places a highway is a specific type of major road that is distinct from freeway or expressway; in other places the terms may overlap. In law highway may mean any public road or canal. However, in some countries, the term highway is not generally used at all.
In Australia, a highway is a distinct type of road from freeways and motorways. The word highway is generally used to mean major roads connecting large cities, towns and different parts of metropolitan areas. Metropolitan highways often have traffic lights at intersections, and rural highways usually have only one lane in each direction. The words freeway or motorway are generally reserved for the most arterial routes, almost always with no traffic light intersections and usually significantly straightened and widened. The term motorway is used in some Australian cities to refer to freeways that have been allocated a metropolitan route number, and in Sydney, a motorway has a toll, whereas a freeway is free of charge. It is now possible to travel from Melbourne to Sydney without having to stop at a traffic light. Roads may be part-highway and part-freeway until they are fully upgraded.
In New Zealand, a motorway runs through urban areas and an expressway runs through rural areas. Both motorways and expressways generally have no access to adjacent properties and no facility for pedestrians or cyclists. New Zealand's main routes are designated state highways. State Highway 1 is the only route to run through both the North and South Islands, and runs (in order north-south) from Cape Reinga to Wellington in the North Island, and from Picton to Bluff in the South Island. State Highways 2-5 are main routes in the North Island, State Highways 6-9 in the South Island, and state highways numbered from 10 onwards are generally found in numerical order from north to south. State highways usually incorporate different types of roads, for example, State Highway 1 from Auckland to Hamilton incorporates the Northern and Southern Motorways in the Auckland area, the Waikato Expressway, and a rural road before passing through the streets of Hamilton. The term freeway is rarely used relating to New Zealand roads, and can only be considered an Americanism.
In Brazil, highways (or expressway/freeway) are named "rodovia", and Brazilian highways are divided in two types: regional highways (generally of less importance and entirely inside of one state) and national highways (of major importace to the country). In Brazil, rodovia is the name given exclusively to roads connecting two or more cities with a sizable distance separating the extremes of the highway. Urban highways for commuting are uncommon in Brazil, and when they are present, they are receives different names, depending of the region (Avenida, Marginal, Linha, etc). Very rarely names other than "rodovia" are used.
Regional highways are named YY-XXX, where YY is the abbreviation of the state where the highway is running in and XXX is a number (e.g. SP-280; where SP means that the highway is running entirely in the state of São Paulo).
National highways are named BR-XXX. National highways connects multiples states altogether, are of major importance to the national economy and/or connects Brazil to another country. The meaning of the numbers are:
- 001-100 - it means that the highway runs radially from Brasília. It is an exception to the cases below.
- 101-200 - it means that the highway runs in a south-north way.
- 201-300 - it means that the highway runs in a west-east way
- 301-400 - it means that the highway runs in a diagonay way (northwest-southeast, for example)
- 400-499 - another exception, they are less important highways and its function is to connect a city to an arterial highway nearby
Often Brazilian highways receives names (famous people, etc), but even though, they countinue to have a YY/BR-XXX name (exemple: Rodovia Castelo Branco is also SP-280).
See List of Brazilian Highways
- In Canada, there is no national standard for nomenclature, although highway appears more popular in all areas except Ontario, where expressway or 400-Series is used, and Quebec where highways are called autoroutes (borrowing the term from French). Nova Scotia numbers its freeways by the routes they parallel, for example, highway 101 paralells highway 1.
- The Trans Canada Highway, the highway (mostly four lane, sometimes less, sometime more) that crosses the entire country (and entering all ten provinces), holds the record as the longest national highway in the world. The only portions of this road not considered to be of freeway status are in the British Columbia Rocky Mountains, Northern Ontario, and in Newfoundland.
"Highways" in China, more often than not, refer to China National Highways. The multi-lane, central-separation routes are instead called expressways.
In Mainland China, private companies reimbursed through tolls are the primary means of creating and financing the National Trunk Highway System.
There is actually no separate classification for expressway (which is the term more often used in the PRC). Most likely, they are lumped with first-grade guodaos (meaning National roads). Beneath guodaos in rank level are shengdaos (provincial roads) and xiandaos (pronounced hsien-daos or shien-daos, which equate to county-level roads). Some expressways are numbered with a leading zero (e.g. G030).
Freeway was used on a few expressways (such as the Jingshi Freeway) before expressway was chosen as a standarised term.
The Chinese name for expressways (or freeways, as they used to be called) is uniform; in pinyin, it is gao su gong lu, which literally means "high speed public road".
In the PRC, highway does not refer to a freeway or expressway, but instead to a normal road equivalent to an "A"-level road in Britain, or a class-one non-expressway. This can cause some confusion, though.
In Hong Kong, the high speed roads are referred to as expressways, but many are named as highways ('Tuen Mun Highway' etc.).
The highest level of major roads in Malaysia, expressway (lebuhraya), has full access control, grade separated junctions, and mostly tolled. The expressways link the major state capitals in Peninsular Malaysia and major cities in Klang Valley.
Highway is lower level with limited access control, some at-grade junctions or roundabouts, and generally with 2 lanes in each separated direction. These are generally untolled and funded by the federal government, hence the first one is called Federal Highway linking Klang and Kuala Lumpur.
The trunk roads linking major cities and towns in the country are called federal trunk roads, and are generally 2 lanes single carriageway roads, in places with a third climbing lane for slow lorries.
Colloquially, the terms "freeway," "highway," and "motorway" are used synonymously. There are very few references to the term "expressway" in South Africa. A freeway, highway or motorway refers to a divided dual carriageway with limited access/egress, with at least two lanes in either direction. A central island, usually either with drainage, foliage or high-impact barriers, provides a visible separation between carriageways in opposite directions. As with the UK and Australia, South Africans drive on the left-hand side of the road and all steering wheels are on the right-hand side of vehicles.
Freeways are designated with one of three labels: N (in reference to national roads), R (short for "route," in reference to provincial roads), and M (in reference to metropolitan roads). This has more to do with the location of a road and its function than anything else. In addition, "N" roads usually run the length of the country over long distances, "R" roads usually inter-connect cities and towns within a province, and "M" roads carry heavy traffic in metropolitan areas. Route markings also determine who paid for the road: "N" was paid for by national government, "R" by provincial government and "M" by local government. In recent years, some "R" roads have been re-designated as "N" roads, so that control and funding comes from the South African National Roads Agency.
The term Autobahn is used for normal expressways where there is a central physical structure separating two different directional carriageways. This is often translated into English as motorway.
In express routes where there is no central physical structure separating two different directional carriageways, but crossings are still motorway-like otherwise, and traffic lights are not present, the road is instead called an Autostrasse, translated into English as a motorroad. Autostrassen often have a lower speed limit than Autobahnen.
Great Britain and Ireland
In Great Britain and Ireland, unless a route is classified as a motorway, the term used may be main road , trunk road, 'A' road/'B' road, or, where appropriate, dual carriageway. In the law of England and Wales the term highway covers everything from a footpath (for foot passage only), to a bridleway (for foot, bicycle and equestrian use), to a byway open for all traffic (for all the aforementioned users, plus any motorised user), to unclassified county roads, classified roads, trunk roads, motorways and special roads. In British law, there is no definition of "road", and generally the most common usage refers to "carriageway", "footpath", "bridleway" or "byway"
In England and Wales the public are traditionally given a "right of way" by the Crown to a highway in accordance with the status the route carrys. This is distinct from the tradition in most republics, in which the territory of the nation is regarded as belonging to the public at large and there is a presumption that an individual may travel anywhere that they are not lawfully prohibition from do so.
In the U.S., the terms expressway and freeway are legally defined by federal regulation and under the laws of most U.S. states according to civil engineering usage. However, the distinction between these two terms is not universal, and in several states which built freeways very early on (including Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania), the terms expressway and freeway have the same meaning. In those states, expressway, the older usage, is often preferred.
In New Jersey and Pennsylvania, newer roads are often officially styled freeways, where older roads retain the title "expressway". In New England and New York, the term freeway is rarely if ever used; highway is the generic term for high-speed limited-access roads, though Expressway and Freeway are both used as part of the proper name of some roads. In the rest of the country, freeway is the usual term; however, the distinction between freeways and expressways is not always as clear or well-understood as it is in California, which has many of both kinds of highway. In California, freeways are divided, grade-separated, controlled-access highways where private driveways, pedestrians, and bicyclists are forbidden, and where speed limits range from 55 to 70 miles per hour. Expressways are divided, but may have at-grade or grade-separated intersections as demand requires, private driveways are minimized (but not completely forbidden), bicyclists and pedestrians are sometimes allowed, and the speed limits range from 45 to 55 miles per hour. All interstate highway routes in California are freeways, most important intracity state routes are freeways, and most important intercity state routes are expressways (with sections being upgraded to freeways as necessary).
In the U.S., particularly in statutes, the term highway technically has the broader meaning than that given at the beginning of this article (encompassing all state government-maintained roads or canals for cross-city or inter-city traffic), but in colloquial usage is often used to refer only the subset of that category that includes roads less important than a freeway. That subset generally includes roads with 2, 4, or 6 lanes, with or without a center divider, that have at-grade intersections and driveways connecting to adjacent properties. However, even then, such highways are usually built to higher standards (wider lanes and more durable pavement) than the connecting arterial routes, streets, alleys, and driveways.
The highest continuous road in the United States is the Trail Ridge Road that runs through the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.
The term highway is also often used in colloquial speech where the correct term would be "State Route," or "U.S. Route." For example, California residents frequently refer to Highway 101 rather than U.S. 101.
For information on the history and local styles of highways around the world refer to
Last updated: 10-10-2005 09:02:35