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What’s the difference between a highway and a freeway?

highway and a freeway

What’s the difference between a highway and a freeway? Is it just that one is usually elevated and the other isn’t?

The terms “highway” and “freeway” are often used interchangeably, but their meanings vary based on regional differences. In general, the distinction is not primarily based on elevation but instead on specific characteristics of the roads. Here’s a general understanding:

  1. Highway:
  • Usage: The term “highway” is a broad term used to describe a main road or route that connects two or more locations. It can encompass various types of roads, including local, state, and national.
  • Characteristics: Highways can vary widely in design, including intersections, traffic lights, and various access points.
  1. Freeway:
  • Usage: The term “freeway” is commonly used in the United States and certain other regions to refer to a specific type of high-speed road with controlled access.
  • Characteristics:
    • Controlled Access: Freeways typically have limited access points. They may have on-ramps and off-ramps instead of direct intersections.
    • No Traffic Lights: Freeways usually do not have traffic lights or level crossings. Interchanges and overpasses are used to allow traffic to flow without stopping.
    • Divided Lanes: Freeways often have multiple lanes in each direction, with a median or barrier separating opposing traffic.

It’s important to note that the terminology might differ in different countries or regions. For example, in the United Kingdom, the term “motorway” is commonly used instead of “freeway.” 

Similarly, in some places, the term “expressway” or “autobahn” describes high-speed roads with controlled access. The terms and specific characteristics can vary, so it’s helpful to consider the local context when using these terms.

What’s the difference between a highway and a freeway?

In the United States, a freeway is a type of highway. Freeways are divided, have a minimum of two lanes in each direction, have limited access, no cross traffic, and are usually not elevated except at interchanges. 

Highways that aren’t freeways or tollways are often not divided, are usually only one lane in each direction, and have cross traffic, often with traffic lights and sometimes stop signs. Freeways and tollways generally have higher speed limits than other highways.

In the United States, highways are built and maintained at the state level. A general hierarchy of roadways in many states is as follows (terminology as used in the state of Texas):

  • City streets
  • County roads
  • Farm-to-Market Roads, Ranch-to-Market Roads, and Park Roads
  • State Highways (some of which are freeways)
  • US Highways (some of which are freeways)
  • Freeways and Tollways (including Interstate Highways)

Generally speaking, as you go from top to bottom in the list, road standards and speed limits get higher and higher, though city streets and county roads can be highly variable. 

Some states have different terminology from the above, though US highways and freeways occur in all states. For instance, some northern states have township roads, while Louisiana does not have the farm-to-market equivalent, with its state highways covering that type of road.

Freeways have no traffic lights and no crossroads. Highways have traffic lights at most major intersections and crossroads and driveways for those who live along the highway. 

Most highways are four-lane ( 2 lanes in each direction and are typically divided by either an 18-inch double yellow line or, like freeways, some have natural medians between them.

Where I am (Australia), a highway has at-grade crossings and direct entry and exit. A freeway has no at-grade crossings and entries and exits on ramps (slip lanes)

What’s the difference between a highway, freeway, and interstate?

So, in the U. S., a highway is a major road that connects towns and cities. They can range in size from small, pleasant, two-lane backroads that wind through areas of outstanding natural beauty to enormous, overbearing, ugly monstrosities that plow through huge cities.

Some have so little traffic that you’d think they’d been abandoned, and some have so much traffic that when you drive on it, you’ll start to think that Thanos was right all along. Although I have relatively little driving experience, only starting around seven months ago, I’ve driven on all kinds of highways, from small, off-the-grid highways to major interstates.

There are two different highway designations in the United States: U. S. Highways and Interstate Highways. U. S. Highways are usually two to four lanes wide with on and off-ramps, as well as some intersections occasionally, depending on where you are. 

There’s no strict definition for a U. S. Highway, at least, as far as I know. It’s only a U. S. Highway if designated as one, so some roads large enough to be a typical highway’s size may not be.

Interstate Highways are different. They’re still highways, but unlike U. S. Highways, Interstate Highways must be controlled access. Controlled access means traffic flow on or off the road is regulated with on and off-ramps. Interstate Highways are usually freeways, meaning they don’t have required tolls, but this is only sometimes the case, especially on the East Coast. 

Interstate highways are also usually larger than U. S. highways, having a minimum of four lanes, two on each side, and shoulders, which are spaces on the side of the road where you can pull over, with enough room for large vehicles like trucks. Those are the only significant differences between U. S. Highways and Interstate Highways.

This next part doesn’t relate to your question, but I will say it anyway because I’m a huge nerd when it comes to this kind of stuff. U. S. Highways are usually numbered so that odd-numbered highways run north and south, and even-numbered highways run west and east, with numbers increasing the farther south and west you go and decreasing the farther north and east you go. 

I’m not going to look at the route of every U. S. Highway to confirm that they all follow this numbering system because that would take forever because there are so many of them. Still, they usually follow this system.

The Interstate Highways also usually follow this system, more so than the U. S. Highways, but still with some exceptions. However, the Interstate Highways reverse the second half of the numbering system. They are usually numbered so that numbers increase the farther north and east you go and decrease the farther south and west you go. 

However, they’re still numbered so that even-numbered highways run north and south, and odd-numbered highways run west and east.

Finally, both U. S. Highways and Interstate Highways have auxiliary routes, short highways that branch off the main road. Additional routes are designated depending on the highway they branch off, whether a U. S. or Interstate Highway. 

Auxiliary route numbers have three digits: one digit followed by the digits of the highway it branches off of. Interstate Highways with three digits are always additional routes, and while this is usually the case with U. S. Highways with three digits, there are some exceptions.

Holy hell, that was a long one! Anyway, I hope this helps.

What is the difference between a freeway and an expressway?

There is a difference, and there is no difference. In the US, toll-free, controlled access multi-lane highways are called freeways or expressways, depending on the state and metropolitan area. 

Generally, such highways are called expressways, mostly in Eastern cities such as New York and Chicago (but not Detroit and Washington, DC, where they call them freeways), while most Western cities tend to refer to such highways as freeways. 

Since there are many Silicon Valley-based viewers here, “expressways” are used around San Jose, California, to refer to multi-lane surface roads with higher speed limits but traffic lights control access. 

As a side note, the term “Freeway” is misused in my current country, Taiwan, for its national North-South running highways that are controlled-access multi-lane highways but are tolled. In the US, controlled-access highways that are tolled are never called “freeways” but usually “toll roads” or “tollways.” 

Turnpikes are also commonly used to refer to long-distance toll roads that are controlled-access highways in many northern tier states and Florida in the United States, but “turnpikes” also refer to free surface roads (access controlled by traffic lights and stop signs) that historically link towns together with higher speed limits than average commercial streets and avenues, again primarily used in Eastern US.

How strong is Sai in Naruto Shippūden?

In the US, what is the difference between highway, freeway, motorway, turnpike, causeway, parkway, expressway, etc.? Why are there so many names for the same thing?

I’m from New Jersey, the Land of Highways so that I can give some input. Usually, the different words convey specifics about the road: if there’s a toll, if certain kinds of traffic are allowed, how fast you can expect it to be, and so on.

These are all written from a New Jersey-New York perspective and are how I’ve heard them used/have used them, so your mileage may vary as to the specifics. 

Here goes:

Highway – A generic term for a controlled access road designed for heavy traffic at high speeds. It can be free access, it can require a toll, whatever. If you don’t know what to call it, “highway” works.

Freeway: A highway that has explicitly no tolls, often used to contrast with a nearby turnpike, which does have tolls. If you start on a road and have to merge onto a turnpike, get your quarters ready. (Yes, I remember the dark days before E-ZPass.) Motorway – The UK-Irish term for a highway. This is just a dialectical difference.

Turnpike: A highway that charges tolls, supposedly because initially, a pikeman would block the road with a pike until you paid; at this point, he would turn the pike aside and let you pass. It often contrasts with a nearby freeway, which does not charge tolls – especially when a standard route would take you through a highway and a turnpike.

Parkway: A highly landscaped road usually blocked off to trucks and other heavy traffic that is (or originally was) intended for recreational drives around the mid-20th century. Now, they’re primarily major commuter routes but are generally still manicured. 

The original intention by Robert Moses et al. was that these roads would be the new “stroll in the park” for motorized urbanites and suburbanites, back when families often just went out for a casual drive.

Expressway – A highway designed for high-speed traffic, usually towards a specific area. Hence, expressways usually have fewer exits and intersections and lead more or less directly (in my case) to New York City. 

If you got on, it’s because you were headed to the city – unlike a regular highway, where you could get on and turn off ten minutes later. After all, exits are plentiful.

What is the difference between a freeway, a highway, and a turnpike?

Alright. Here are the USA definitions and differences.

Freeways have at least two traffic lanes in each direction and entrance and exit ramps. Access to those ramps may, but also may not, be controlled by traffic lights. The Freeway itself has NO traffic lights. No stopping is allowed except in case of emergency or cases of hefty traffic. 

The speed limit is high, and vehicles that cannot maintain a minimum speed (typically around 45mph/72kph) are prohibited; this includes golf carts, motor scooters, mopeds, bicycles, etc. Pedestrians are also generally prohibited, with very, very limited exceptions. 

Fencing or barriers of various types are present to prevent entry or exit by vehicles, animals, or otherwise at any other location besides designated entrance and exit ramps. 

In the USA, ALL “Interstates” (Blue and Red Shield) are either freeways or tollways/turnpikes (publicly owned, federally and state-funded, with toll collection schemes of some sort)

Highways only need one traffic lane in each direction, though they often have two or more in more populated areas. 

Some roads are built to freeway standards (see above), while others use city street roadways with traffic lights. Intersections can be an exit or entrance ramp, a traffic light, a stop sign, a roundabout, a yield/giveaway sign, or completely uncontrolled (like private driveways). 

Speed limits vary widely based on designed traffic volume and control types. Unless it is built to freeway standards and signed as such, pedestrians and bicycles are generally permitted, as well as stopping and parking. 

US Federal Highways (white shield), state highways, and county expressways fall into this category. Depending on the state and location, the toll is sometimes charged to use these roads.

Turnpikes were historically privately owned roadways where the owner collected tolls in exchange for passage. This financed the maintenance and improvements and made a profit for the owner. These days, the term”Turnpike” indicates any sort of roadway where toll is collected, whether privately (rare) or publicly owned.

“Turnpike” is not used for toll bridges, ferries, and tunnels. The toll (at least initially) is assessed to finance that particular feature’s construction, maintenance, and operating costs.

What examples do you have of elevated freeways going through downtown city cores?

In Boston, the Central Artery is part of Interstate 93. Initially built in the 1950s, it could not handle increasing traffic capacity within a few short decades. So, starting in the ’90s, it was torn down and replaced underground. 

It became known as the “Big Dig,” one of U.S. history’s most extensive and expensive public works projects. It was not without controversy; it was plagued with cost overruns, delays, and a ceiling collapse in the tunnel, resulting in a woman’s death.

Most of the land where the CA used to pass over has been replaced by a series of Parks called the Rose Kennedy Greenway, named in honor of the Matriarch of the Kennedy clan.

What is the difference between an interstate and a freeway?

Technically, an “Interstate” is a part of a federally-funded, trans-state highway system. The north-south ones have odd numbers, starting from the west, where I-5 connects (among others) Los Angeles and Seattle, to the east, where I-95 runs from Florida through New England. I-77 is in Ohio.

The east-west interstates have even numbers, with I-66, for example, heading west out of Washington D.C. State roads are numbered in reverse, with Route 1 running the length of the eastern seaboard. 

A freeway, by contrast, is a broader term for any non-toll, limited-access highway. Its opposite is the turnpike or toll road: a limited-access highway with user fees collected either in booths or by overhead scanners.

In another sense, interstate vs. freeway can be just a linguistic marker. Most Americans don’t have accents in the British sense, where words are pronounced differently. (There are American regional accents, but only about 40% of American speakers have them). However, Americans in different regions often use other terms for the same thing.

A famous test published by the New York Times can identify where an American grew up. Some questions are about pronunciation (asking if different words rhyme), but more are about what you call something: tennis shoes vs. gym shoes vs. athletic shoes vs. sneakers, for example, for what the Brits call trainers. 

One of those questions is freeway vs. highway vs. interstate. I’m not sure where each term is more common, but the test is very accurate, so speakers in some areas must tend to use one or the other to talk about essentially the same kind of road.

What’s the difference between an interstate and a highway?

Interstate refers to the federal system of limited access highways in the US. They are multilane and cannot be accessed directly from side streets and roadways. 

They use safer onramps and crossover bridges to allow cars to enter and exit the system and to allow higher speeds for longer distances without stopping. Interstates do not have control devices such as stop signs and traffic lights on through lanes.

Highways may be multilane, but they do not have to be. They may be controlled access, but generally are not. They typically have greater direct access and offer direct access from other highways, streets, parking lots, and private driveways. They may have stop signs and control lights. The state, the county, or the federal highway systems may control highways.

What is the difference between a highway, an expressway, a motorway, and a freeway?

In some cases, the difference is nonexistent. Generally, in the USA, A motorway is any paved road but usually refers to boulevards or larger roads, including freeways and tollways.

A highway is a significant thoroughfare spanning an entire county, state, or country. Highways have both controlled and uncontrolled intersections for access. The wild access points are usually in Russia.

What’sWhat’s the difference between an interstate and a highway?

Both are ” highways,” but the interstates were built as part of a specific infrastructure program undertaken by the federal government to create a road system to move vehicular traffic efficiently.

Officially, it was undertaken as a “military project, “enabling US troops to move around the country quickly. In reality, it was just an excuse to build a highway system. One rarely sees any military vehicles – I can think of a half dozen times, at most, that I have seen any military presence on the roads.

“Interstates” follow a consistent standard – two wide lanes in each direction separated by a wide median, ample shoulders, wide curves, minimal slopes, no cross streets or traffic lights, controlled access via cloverleaves, and merge lanes at relatively distant intervals. 

In most cases, they bypass urban centers and have collected commercial developments at the entrances/exits since being built. Being paid for as a federal military project, there are no tolls except for a few sections turned over to local jurisdictions because they wanted a more extensive road and were willing to pay for it.

“Highway” is a more generic term that includes the interstates. But it could also be a road built by a state or local government entity, have tolls, and be a commercial route with cross streets, businesses, and traffic lights. Indeed, it’s a name that could be given to just about anything.

What’s the difference between just an expressway and an elevated expressway?

As its name suggests, an expressway is a controlled-access highway where entrance and exit are controlled by ramps incorporated into the design. They are the highest class of roads in India. These roads are built with funding from the Central government and have the highest infrastructure technologies initiated.

An elevated expressway is one where the entire expressway is elevated from the ground traffic level. They are built on piers connected by girders & deck slabs. 

These roads allow for the easy flow of traffic above & don’t interrupt the flow below the expressway where there are junctions or crossings. Elevated expressways are expensive as they are built on highly designed & complicated RCC structures.

What is the difference between a freeway and an expressway?

The prefix. Although, in general, both words will refer to roads with limited access and higher speeds than ordinary city streets, in many places, no law requires roads with that designation to meet those criteria.

I give examples for “expressway,” two Dallas thoroughfares — South Pearl Expressway and Good-Latimer Expressway. They are both of them indistinguishable from any of the nearby streets. Pearl is one-way; Good-Latimer is two-way; their speed limits are 30 mph, and traffic lights are on every block.

For the “freeway” in Dallas, I give you, as an example, the North Stemmons Freeway. It refers to the service roads, north and southbound, on either side of I-35E, north of downtown Dallas. 

Many people call the actual highway “Stemmons,” but the name also applies to the one-way streets on either side that have grade intersections with traffic signals (and stop signs in one or two places). There are similar examples elsewhere.

What is the difference between an interstate, highway, and freeway in the United States?

When I was growing up and the Interstate highways were being built, we called them “the Interstate.” Years later, I was living in California, and when I referred to “the Interstate,” a local said, “You mean the freeway?” 

So, I learned that interstates and freeways are the same but a subset of highways. Nowadays, when I think of highways, I generally think about local, two-lane roads instead of the big two or three lanes in each direction.

In the United States, a freeway is a type of highway with limited access and no grade crossings. I’m unfamiliar with the term motorway, but it sounds like a street for cars only, no horses, so it might be an older term shortly after vehicles became popular.

What is the difference between an expressway, highway, and Interstate?

Generally, a highway is an area within two property lines and a property line to a property line, including parkways, sidewalks, and the road. The property lines mentioned are the closest part of private property that faces the roadway.

Interstates are part of the Interstate Highway System, and each Interstate goes through more than one State. Expressways are local things named by the State, county, or city. California has freeways. Some are Interstates, such as I-5, and some are part of the US Defense Highway system, such as US101. Some are state routes, such as SR (state route)14 and the Antelope Valley Freeway.

A Freeway and Motorway are the same things with limited access; a highway is a major road that still occasionally has access and intersections. Freeways have many different names in countries around the world; in Germany, they’re called Autobahns; in France, they’re called Autoroutes; in Spain, they’re called Autopistas.


The highway has multiple meanings. In law, it typically refers to “roads that are open to the public” instead of private roads and toll roads. But the highway also indicates “important routes” – Highway 1 runs along the Pacific coast from California to the Canadian border [maybe further?].

Highway 101 is a road from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The famous “route 66” refers to “Highway Route 66”. A freeway is a road, in the USA primarily, that has “controlled access” – all the traffic coming on and off the road is done via “ramps”; there aren’t direct junctions (T or four-way road crossings). This allows traffic to flow more freely than if you have cross-roads with stop signs or traffic lights.

Elevation has nothing to do with it. That’s a practical way of making road space in areas with a lot of traffic. Another wording of a similar nature: highways are significant routes between cities/large towns. Any major road can be a highway, but you’d expect lanes at least 3.2m/10′ wide, good markings, and either,r stiff shoulders, gravel shoulders, or some of each.

They can have one or two lanes in each direction, divided or not (single or dual carriageway), may or may not have intersections at grade, and may or may not have private driveways.

What is the difference between a freeway and a highway?

In the United States, a freeway is a type of highway, but not all highways are freeways. Freeways have limited access and no grade crossings with other roads. A highway, though, can be as simple as a two-lane road. 

As such, it is paved but isn’t usually limited access. It often has traffic lights and even stop signs. One thing all freeways and highways generally have in common is higher speed limits than local roads.

Highways can also be freeways. Freeways are, by definition, multi-lane (at least two in each direction), divided (dual carriageway), limited-access (no intersections, with all access being via exit and entry ramps, and absolutely no driveways. In the US, all Interstates are freeways, and for all other designations, there is no consistency.

In the state of Kansas, I can think of several stretches of US highways that are two-lane highways, and I can think of several state routes that are freeways, with two of them being on my weekly commute: K-10 from Lawrence to Lenexa, and K7 from Olathe to Bonner Springs.

What’s the difference between a highway and a freeway? Is it just that one is usually elevated and the other isn’t?

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