Sunday, 11 July 2004


I can’t answer all of Will Baude’s questions, but I’ll give two of them a shot:

Why is a turnpike called a turnpike?

For that matter, what exactly makes a particular stretch of limited-access highway a turnpike?

Turnpikes were originally named “turnpikes” because that was the name of the turnstiles that were used at the toll gates; they started out as “turnpike roads” but the name was shortened to simply “turnpike” or even (particularly in the South) “pike.”

In general, a modern turnpike is a fully-controlled access highway (what engineers and Californians call a “freeway,” Britons would call a “motorway,” and francophones call an autoroute) that charges a toll for use; however, there are exceptions—most notably, the Connecticut Turnpike (part of Interstate 95), which stopped charging tolls after a nasty multivehicle accident at a tollbooth in 1985. Also, some contemporary turnpikes only charge tolls on part of their length—the Maryland Turnpike starts near Baltimore and runs to the Delaware border, but the toll is only charged at one location on the route.

So, in sum, the name “turnpike” is generally applied to roads that are, or used to be, toll roads, and there’s no particular logic to whether or not a particular toll road will be called a “turnpike.”


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Minor quibble – Though they are rare out here, Californias do not call toll roads freeways, they usually call them tollways or toll roads. In fact the etemology (sp?) of freeway is that they are in fact, free….

Also, I am not so sure about “pike” being more southern. I grew up outside Philly and know southern New England pretty well, and I know a lot of roads called xxxx pike in those areas. (Though, admittedly they are old roads, not currently toll roads or limited access for that matter.)


Actually, the “free” in “freeway” means free flow of traffic (e.g. without signalized intersections), not the monetary cost associated with using the highway. It is true that colloquially, a tolled freeway is normally not called a “freeway,” but it is a freeway (by the FHWA definition of the term) nonetheless.


Of course, we now need to know where “thruway,” as in the “New York State Thruway,” comes from. Are there any other “thruways”? “Parkway,” though, seems obvious.

Agree with Fred that there are a lot of old northern roads with the name “pike,” without the “turn” part.

I had a great uncle who answered this question with a long shaggy dog story involving a guy named “Pike.” Pike, at some critical juncture, failed to turn, notwithstanding pleas from the crowd to “Turn, Pike!” Something tells me that this explanation fails Occam’s Razor.

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