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Sign for Autopista in Spain

Autopista is a Spanish language word designating a type of limited access highway. Autopistas exist in many Spanish-speaking countries, including El Salvador, Mexico, Chile, Spain, Cuba, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Panama, Venezuela and Argentina.



In Spain Autopista is one of two classes of major highway in the Spanish road system similar to a motorway. It is akin to the autovía, the other major highway class, but has more features and is generally a toll road.

Distinguishing features:

  • must be divided by a median of land or protective fence
  • have at least two lanes in each direction
  • have emergency lanes (Shoulders or "breakdown lanes") along the right hand side
  • minimal curvature impinging on high speed safety
  • no at-grade intersections
  • entrance and exit ramps that allow for maintained highway speed
  • access almost always on the right side, via the slow lane

Autopistas are laid out on original routes, whereas autovías are generally improvements to existing roads, so autopistas have gentler curves and safer access. Both have speed limits of 120 km/hour. Tolls are usually collected at plazas for certain sections, however there has been increased implementation of the electronic debit system Telepeaje, similar to Free Flow.


The Mexican autopista system generally follows the Spanish model, except certain routes through mountainous areas are two-lane (example, the Puebla - Oaxaca autopista). The first autopista was built from Mexico City to Queretaro in 1958. The system underwent a massive expansion campaign beginning about 1990 and continues to expand. Mexican autopistas are operated by private concessionaires and are noted for very high toll rates, the Mexico City - Acapulco route of 400 kilometers costs approximately US $50 to transverse. Tolls are paid at toll booths and automatic Telepeaje system like in Spain. The speed limit on the Mexican Autopista system is generally 120 km/hour for private autos and 95 km/hour for buses and trucks. Most Mexican intercity buses have speed governors to limit maximum speed to the 95 km/hour limit. As of 2008, there are almost 15,000 Kilometres of 4 or more lane Autopistas in Mexico.

Puerto Rico

The Puerto Rican "autopista" system follows roughly the same standards of the U.S. interstate system. Some autopistas even have a hidden interstate designation. Autopistas in Puerto Rico are toll roads, in contrast to "expresos" which are controlled access freeways. AutoExpreso system is the electronic payment system used by Puerto Rico's autopistas.


The "autopista" in Panama refers specifically to one restricted-access highway, which was built to bypass the town of La Chorrera on the Pan-American Highway. It starts just past the border of the old Panama Canal Zone just prior to entering Araijan and rejoins the old Pan-American Highway just prior to Capira. THis was the first restricted access highway in Panama. Others have been built since, and have other names, but when someone says "autopista" they are referring to this one.

See also



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