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A toll road, turnpike or tollpike is a road on which a toll authority collects a fee for use. Similarly there are toll bridges and toll tunnels. Other non-toll roads are financed using other sources of revenue, most typically gas tax funds. Tolls have been placed on roads at various times in history.
Parliament passed the upkeep of bridges to local settlements or the containing county under the 1531 Statue of Bridges and in 1555 the care of roads was similarly devolved to the parishes as statute labour. Every adult inhabitant of the parish was obliged to work four consecutive days a year on the roads, providing their own tools, carts and horses. The work was overseen by an unpaid local appointee, the Surveyor of Highways. It was not until 1654 that road rates were introduced. However, the improvements offered by paid labour were offset by the rise in the use of wheeled vehicles greatly increasing wear to the road surfaces. The government react to this was to use legislation to try and limit the use of wheeled vehicles and also to regulate their construction. A vain hope that wider rims would be less damaging briefly led to carts with sixteen inch wheels, they did not cause ruts but neither did they roll and flatten the road as was hoped.
The first turnpike road, whereby travellers paid tolls to be used for road upkeep, was authorised in 1663 for a section of the Great North Road in Hertfordshire. The term turnpike refers to a gate on which sharp pikes would be fixed as a defence against cavalry. Most English gates were not built to this standard, of the first three gates two were found to be easily avoided.
The first turnpike trust was established by Parliament through a Turnpike Act in 1706, placing a section of the London-Coventry-Chester road in the hands of a group of trustees. The trustees could erect gates as they saw fit, demand statute labour or a cash equivalent, and appoint surveyors and collectors, in return they repaired the road and put up mileposts. Initially trusts were established for limited periods, around twenty years. The expectation was that the trust would borrow the money to repair the road and repay that debt over time with the road then reverting to the local authorities. In reality the initial debt was rarely paid-off and the trusts were renewed as needed. The turnpike trusts were initially set up along the thirteen main roads from London, a process that lasted until 1750. From 1751 until 1772 there was a flurry of interest in turnpike trusts and a further 390 were established. By 1825 over 1,000 trusts controlled 25,000 miles of road in England and Wales.
The quality of early trust roads was very variable - standards for road construction were unknown and while they were better the roads still tended to become easily water-logged. Road construction improved slowly, initially through the efforts of individual surveyors, such as John Metcalf in Yorkshire in the 1760s. But nineteenth century engineers made great advances, notably Thomas Telford and John Loudon McAdam. The work of Telford on the Holyhead Road in the 1820s reduced the journey time of the London mail coach from 45 hours to just 27 hours, the best mail coach speeds rose from 5-6 mph to 9-10 mph. In 1843 the London to Exeter mail coach could complete the 170 miles in 17 hours.
The rise of railway transport largely halted the improving schemes of the turnpike trusts. The London-Birmingham railway almost instantly halved the tolls income of the Holyhead Road. Unable to earn sufficient from tolls alone the trusts took to requiring taxes from the local parishes. The system was never properly reformed but from the 1870s Parliament stopped renewing the acts and roads began to revert to local authorities, the last trust vanished in 1895. The Local Government Act, 1888 created county councils and gave them responsibility for maintaining the major roads. The abiding relic of the English toll roads is the number of houses with names like "Turnpike Cottage", and occasional roadname: Turnpike Lane in north London has given its name to an Underground station
After 1940 with the Pennsylvania Turnpike, toll roads saw a resurgence, this time to fund limited access highways. By 1956, most limited access highways in the eastern United States were toll roads. In that year, the Interstate highway program was established, funding non-toll roads with 90% federal dollars and 10% state match, giving little incentive for states to expand their turnpike system.
Since the completion of the interstate highway program, states are again looking at toll financing for roads, as federal dollars are not as available.
Travelers have disliked toll roads not only for the cost of the toll, but also for the delays at toll booths.
An adaptation of aircraft "identification friend or foe" technology, called electronic toll collection, is lessening, and raises hope of eliminating, the delay. It determines whether the cars passing are enrolled in the program, alerts enforcers for those that are not, and debits electronically the accounts of registered cars without their stopping, or even opening a window.
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