Difference between a Highway and a Freeway

By: | Updated: Feb-10, 2020

Highways and freeways are major roads that grant access to major cities. But while they are commonly used interchangeably, the two kinds of roads actually have structural differences that make them applicable for specific traveling needs.

Summary Table

HighwayFreeway
Accessed via an intersection or a rampAccessed via a ramp
Built with toll booths, traffic signals, pedestrian lanes, and intersectionsBuilt without toll booths, traffic signals, pedestrian lanes, and intersections
Designed to alleviate traffic congestion and to facilitate faster travel between citiesDesigned to minimize travel times for longer distances
Has two to four lanesHas four to six lanes
Usually has no barrier between two opposing lanesUsually has a barrier between two opposing lanes
Imposes a lower speed limitImposes a higher speed limit
Grants general access to all types of vehiclesUsually restricts the entry of motorcycles, bicycles, and heavy transport vehicles
Regulated and maintained by the state governmentMainly regulated and maintained by the federal government

Descriptions

A highway

A highway is a major road that connects main roads and small roads.

A freeway

A freeway, on the other hand, is a major road built with several lanes that facilitates fast travel.

Highway vs Freeway

They were built for the same purpose: to offer better access to a wide range of destinations. However, there is still a huge difference between a highway and a freeway.

Access

A highway can be accessed via an intersection or a ramp, which directs travelers to different areas, while a freeway is always linked to a ramp. Unlike a highway, a freeway does not have intersections since it is designed to facilitate fast travel.

Design

A freeway is basically a type of highway but it is structurally different from ordinary highways that serve as a link between main roads and small local roads. Unlike a highway, a freeway is free from toll booths, traffic signals, pedestrian lanes, and intersections.

Purpose

A highway serves as a parent road of small pathways, which lead to houses and other populated parts of cities and towns. Wider than ordinary city roads, a highway was designed to alleviate traffic congestion and to facilitate faster travel between cities. While a highway and a freeway both have a common goal, freeways are built to minimize travel times for longer distances. Just like a horse competing in a race, cars on a freeway can travel freely since there are no pedestrian lanes, traffic signals, and other structures that can cause delays.

Lanes

A highway usually has two to four lanes, while a freeway has between four and six lanes. Aside from the differences in the number of lanes, a freeway has a barrier between the two opposing directions, while a highway has none.

Speed Limit

Speed limits apply to all types of roads, and highways and freeways are no exception. However, between the two, cars on a freeway are allowed to travel faster since the main goal is to cut travel times. Typically, the speed limit imposed on highways is around 55 mph – a figure that’s usually 10-20 mph less than that of freeways.

Vehicular Restrictions

Unlike a highway that grants general access to all types of vehicles, a freeway has vehicular restrictions. In most cases, motorcycles, bicycles, and heavy transport vehicles cannot pass through freeways.

Maintenance

Highways are regulated and maintained by the state government, while most freeways are maintained by the federal government.

Did this article help you?
Thank you!
Thank you!
What was wrong?