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A toll road (also called a turnpike, toll highway, or express toll route) is a road for which the user must pay a fee, or toll. Historically, and sometimes today, tolls are collected as a type of income for the use of government or landowner.
Modern tolls are a form of user tax which pays for the cost of road construction and maintenance without raising taxes on non-users. Investor's bonds necessary to pay for the construction and maintenance of the roads are issued and sold with the expectation that the bonds will be paid back over time by user tolls. After the bonds are paid off the road typically reverts to the government agency that owns the land it was built on and had authorized the construction. Access to toll roads are restricted to prevent non-payers from using the road.
Toll roads may be built to allow some users to travel faster, so relieving traffic congestion and speeding up traffic. These systems may be one restricted toll lane or more on an otherwise free road. All roads have to be paid for somehow, and so are never truly "free". Normally, road construction costs are paid for by the taxes on gasoline, diesel, or other fuel. Users of toll roads still pay these taxes and the tolls for using this particular road or lane.
Tolls are mentioned in Greek mythology where Charon the ferryman charged a toll to carry the dead across the rivers Acheron and Styx to Hades. If the soul paid a toll, Charon ferried it across the river. If not, it wandered between death and life for eternity.
Toll roads are at least 2700 years old, as tolls had to be paid by travellers using the Susa–Babylon highway under the regime of Ashurbanipal, in the seventh 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.
United Kingdom turnpikes
The need to build better roads than the existing ones was a reason for turnpikes. Turnpike trusts were established in England and Wales from about 1706. Turnpike trusts were set up by individual Acts of Parliament, with powers to collect road tolls Britain. At the peak, in the 1830s, over 1,000 trusts had about 30,000 miles (48,000 km) of turnpike road in England and Wales. They had almost 8,000 toll-gates. The trusts were responsible for keeping and improving most main roads in England and Wales. This helped distribute agriculture and industrial goods and kept prices low. The Turnpike trusts were gradually abolished starting in the 1870s. Most trusts improved existing roads, but some new ones, usually only short stretches of road, were also built. Thomas Telford's Holyhead road (now the A5 road) is exceptional: it was a long new road, built in the early 19th century with many toll booths along its length.
- Gilliet, Henri 1990. Toll roads: the French experience. Transrouts International, Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines.
- Parliamentary Papers, 1840, Vol 280 xxvii.
- Rosevear, Alan 2010. Turnpike roads in England