Toll bridge: Wikis


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Paying toll on passing a bridge.--From a painted window in the Tournai Cathedral (15th century).

A toll bridge is a bridge over which traffic may pass upon payment of a toll, or fee.



Toll booth at Mississippi River Bridge at St. Louis, Missouri U.S. Library of Congress

The practice of collecting tolls on bridges probably harks back to the days of ferry crossings where people paid a fee to be ferried across stretches of water. As boats became impractical to carry large loads, ferry operators looked for new sources of revenue. Having built a bridge, they hoped to recoup their investment by charging tolls for people, animals, vehicles, and goods to cross it.

The original London Bridge across the river Thames opened as a toll bridge, but an accumulation of funds by the charitable trust that operated the bridge (Bridge House Estates) saw that the charges were dropped. Using interest on its capital assets, the trust now owns and runs all seven central London bridges at no cost to taxpayers or users.

In the United States, private ownership of toll bridges peaked in the mid-19th century, and by the turn of the 20th century most toll bridges were taken over by state highway departments. In some instances, a quasi-governmental authority was formed, and toll revenue bonds were issued to raise funds for construction and/or operation of the facility.

Removal/continuation of tolls

In some instances, tolls have been removed after retirement of the toll revenue bonds issued to raise funds for construction and/or operation of the facility. Examples include the Robert E. Lee Memorial Bridge in Richmond, Virginia which carries U.S. Route 1 across the James River, and the 4.5-mile long James River Bridge 80 miles downstream which carries U.S. Highway 17 across the river of the same name near its mouth at Hampton Roads. In other cases, especially major facilities such as the Chesapeake Bay Bridge near Annapolis, Maryland, and the George Washington Bridge over Hudson River between New York City and New Jersey, the continued collection of tolls provides a dedicated source of funds for ongoing maintenance and improvements.

Toll plaza at the Rainbow Bridge, Niagara County, New York U.S. Library of Congress

Sometimes citizens revolt against toll plazas, as was the case in Jacksonville, Florida. Tolls were in place on four bridges crossing the St. Johns River, including I-95. These tolls paid for the respective bridges as well as many other highway projects. As Jacksonvile continued to grow, the tolls created bottlenecks on the roadway. In 1988, Jacksonville voters chose to eliminate all the toll booths and replace the revenue with a ½ cent sales tax increase. In 1989, the toll booths were removed, 36 years after the first toll booth went up.

In Scotland, the Scottish Parliament purchased the Skye Bridge from its owners in late 2004, ending the requirement to pay an unpopular expensive toll to cross to Skye from the mainland.

Toll collection

It has become increasingly common for a toll bridge to only charge a fee in one direction. This helps reduce the traffic congestion in the other direction, and generally does not significantly reduce revenue, especially when those traveling the one direction are forced to come back over the same or a different toll bridge.

Toll avoidance: shunpiking

A practice known as shunpiking evolved which entails finding another route for the specific purpose of avoiding payment of tolls.

In some situations where the tolls were increased or felt to be unreasonably high, informal shunpiking by individuals escalated into a form of boycott by regular users, with the goal of applying the financial stress of lost toll revenue to the authority determining the levy.

Toll rates at Connecticut River Bridge between New Hampshire and Vermont U.S. Library of Congress

One such example of shunpiking as a form of boycott occurred at the James River Bridge in eastern Virginia. After years of lower than anticipated revenues on the narrow privately funded structure built in 1928, the state of Virginia finally purchased the facility in 1949 and increased the tolls in 1955 without visibly improving the roadway, with the notable exception of a new toll plaza.

The increased toll rates incensed the public and business users alike. In a well-publicized example of shunpiking, Joseph W. Luter Jr., head of Smithfield Packing Company, the producer of world-famous Smithfield Hams, ordered his truck drivers to take a different route and cross a smaller and cheaper bridge. Tolls continued for 20 more years, and were finally removed from the old bridge in 1975 when construction began on a toll-free replacement structure.

Historic examples of toll bridges




Dublin's famous Ha'penny Bridge


North America

See also


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