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What is a Toll Road?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Feb 02, 2024
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A toll road is a road on which a person must pay a fee or toll to drive. Collecting payment for travel long predates the now traditional toll road that drivers often see. Charon, of Greek myth, required payment for passage into the underworld and crossing the Styx River. “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” is a very old fable in which goats sport with and finally defeat a troll who wishes to eat one of the goats as a toll for crossing a bridge.

Fortunately, the modern toll road generally does not require outwitting an ogre, though traffic congestion caused by a few have been called nightmarish. The principle behind this type of road is that tolls collected help pay for the repair and upkeep of the road. Such roads usually are not maintained by funds allocated by the state, county, or county.

The toll road, which may also be called a turnpike, typically uses one of two systems for paying the toll. One is called a mainline or barrier toll system. As people exit or enter the road, they pay for using it. Toll fees can vary, but generally, they are not greater than $5 to $10 US dollars (USD), and are often much cheaper. The barrier form slows down traffic, since all must stop and pay the toll.

Some barrier toll systems only charge for using the road in one direction. Toll bridges like the Golden Gate Bridge charge only on entry from the north of San Francisco. Those exiting San Francisco via the Golden Gate Bridge pay no toll.

Another form of toll road is called entry/exit. This form is rather like using a paying parking garage. Wherever a car enters the road, the driver collects a ticket. When the driver exits the road, he or she pays a toll determined by how far the vehicle has traveled on the road. Using a longer stretch of the road frequently means paying a larger amount of money.

A toll road may not be part of the public road system. This is most common in other countries, but is not entirely uncommon in the US. For example, 17 Mile Drive, which stretches between Monterey and Carmel, California, requires a toll and is privately owned. Drivers can go around this stretch and use Highway 1 to get from Monterey to Carmel, but using the road is well worth it for people who enjoy sightseeing.

The driver who must frequent such roads often resents having to stop in order to pay a toll. This has led many different payment strategies for commuters. In some cases, drivers can purchase a monthly pass, and a flash of the pass allows the car to quickly get through designated booths.

Some newer toll road systems are working with Global Positioning Systems (GPS) on cars, and verifying that the toll is already provided for in a prepaid account. Some other systems may photograph license plates and send users a monthly bill. Commuters may pay a lower amount for using the road almost every day.

For other drivers, paying the toll still means slowing down and waiting in congested traffic. It can help for the driver to have his or her money out and available to make this process as painless as possible. Bringing exact change will also speed up waiting at the toll booth for everyone.

WikiMotors is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WikiMotors contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By giddion — On Jan 26, 2013

@lighth0se33 – The toll roads near big cities cost the most. It's hard on drivers, but the reason the cost is so high is because of hard economic times.

When our government is broke, it cannot afford to pay to maintain roads. If the federal government is having financial difficulties, so are the state governments, and the burden falls to the drivers.

On top of expecting us to pay on toll roads, the government goes and takes more out of our paychecks to pay for its financial blunders. It doesn't seem quite fair, does it?

By lighth0se33 — On Jan 26, 2013

It bothers me that some toll roads cost so much more than others to travel on. I saw one that was going to cost $10, and I avoided it, because this seemed ridiculous.

I'm used to paying 50 cents or a dollar for the privilege of traveling a road. I'm not going to dole out ten bucks of my hard-earned cash just to drive down a road that I could bypass.

By healthy4life — On Jan 25, 2013

It seems that any road that leads to a big vacation destination is a toll road. The shortest route to my favorite beach is via a toll road, and for years, I went the long way to avoid paying the toll.

The long way was a road that had traffic lights every few feet. Businesses lined the street, and traffic was heavy.

One year, I decided to take the toll road just to see if it would be faster, and it was. There were no traffic lights on the whole thing, and I shaved about an hour off of my travel time.

By Perdido — On Jan 24, 2013

I didn't know that “turnpike” was the same as “toll road!” This is helpful information, because I'm planning the route to take on my vacation to Florida, and I want to avoid toll roads. I'll be sure to skip any turnpikes on the map and navigate differently.

By John57 — On Oct 20, 2012

The quickest way for me to get to my job is by using a toll road. I pay for a monthly fast pass so I don't have to stop each time and I just pay a monthly fee. My route to work would probably take me at least 20 minutes longer each way if I didn't use the toll road.

By SarahSon — On Oct 19, 2012

I grumble about paying each time I use a toll road, but have found they are a much faster and more pleasant way to travel. When we were coming home from a family vacation we decided to pay the $20 and take the toll road. We had traveled to this area before, but had always taken a different route.

Paying the toll was more than worth it. The road we had taken in the past took us right through the middle of a major city. The toll road took us around the city and there wasn't nearly as much traffic. I am not sure if this is always the case with toll roads, but that was my experience anyway.

By honeybees — On Oct 18, 2012

We don't have any toll roads in the state I live in so the only time I use one is when I am traveling out of state. Recently I was on a toll road in Colorado that went to the airport. I knew I was on a toll road, but never had to stop and pay a toll, which I thought was kind of strange.

Come to find out, they took a picture of my license plate and a few weeks later I received the bill in the mail. I think the round trip cost me close to $27 which seemed like a lot to pay just to go to the airport and back.

I was on the toll road for about 30 miles each way, so maybe that is why it was so expensive. If I lived in that area, I think I would find an alternate route if I needed to make very many trips to the airport.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WikiMotors contributor, Tricia...
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