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Highway vs. Freeway: Know the Difference

Shumaila Saeed
By Shumaila Saeed || Updated on December 25, 2023
A highway is a main road, often connecting cities and towns; a freeway is a type of highway without tolls or intersections, designed for faster travel.
Highway vs. Freeway

Key Differences

Highways are major public roads that can be any type of roadway - local, rural, urban, or intercity - and may have traffic lights and intersections. Freeways, however, are designed for unimpeded travel, without any stops or direct access from properties, featuring controlled access points. The terms highway and freeway are sometimes used interchangeably, but they have specific differences in their design and function.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 09, 2023
The term highway covers a broad category of roadways and includes many types of roads, from two-lane rural roads to multi-lane, high-speed roads. Freeways, a subset of highways, are characterized by having multiple lanes separated by a median, with entrance and exit via ramps, and are built exclusively for high-speed vehicular traffic. Highways may have cross traffic, at-grade intersections, traffic signals, and stop signs, which are not found on freeways.
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Highways are used in a general sense to denote major roads intended for travel by the public between significant destinations. Freeways, in contrast, are designed to facilitate long-distance travel efficiently, bypassing traffic congestion commonly found in urban centers and eliminating direct access from adjacent land. A highway can have commercial establishments and direct property access along its path, while a freeway typically does not allow such direct access.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 09, 2023
Maintenance and funding for highways can come from various levels of government, from local to federal, and some highways require the payment of tolls. Freeways are usually built and maintained by higher levels of government and are financed through public funds, thus are toll-free in many cases. However, some regions may have toll freeways, known as tollways or turnpikes.
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Both highways and freeways are integral to a country's transportation infrastructure, serving to connect distant areas and facilitate trade, travel, and economic activity. While a highway might be part of a daily commute within a city or a scenic drive through the countryside, a freeway is more likely to be used for getting from one city to another quickly, without the impediment of traffic lights or congestion.
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Comparison Chart

Access Control

May have at-grade intersections, access points
Controlled access with on and off ramps
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Traffic Signals

Can have stop signs, signals
No traffic signals, designed for continuous flow
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Tolls

Can be toll or toll-free
Typically toll-free, but some are tollways
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Speed Limits

Varies, often lower due to intersections
Usually higher for uninterrupted travel
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Cross Traffic

Often present
Nonexistent; overpasses/underpasses used
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Highway and Freeway Definitions

Highway

A highway is a main public road, especially one connecting major destinations.
The highway was congested with holiday traffic.
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Nov 08, 2023

Freeway

A freeway is a divided highway designed for high-speed travel with no tolls or traffic lights.
He sped up as we merged onto the freeway.
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Highway

Highways can be multi-lane roads facilitating regional or national travel.
She drove across the state on the highway to visit her family.
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Freeway

Freeways connect urban areas and are designed to carry large volumes of traffic.
The freeway connects the two major cities efficiently.
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Highway

A highway may include rural or urban roads and often has traffic control measures.
The new highway has improved the commute for rural areas.
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Freeway

A freeway is a type of controlled-access highway typically without direct property access.
The properties were quite due to the absence of a freeway exit.
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Highway

Highways are often managed by state or local governments and may require tolls.
They avoided the toll highway to save money.
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Freeway

Freeways have multiple lanes and feature ramps for entering and exiting.
The new freeway has really eased our cross-city travel.
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Highway

Highways can be part of strategic routes for trade and transportation.
Trucks frequently use this highway to transport goods to the city.
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Freeway

Freeways are usually maintained by higher levels of government without direct commercial access.
They are building a new service area off the next freeway exit.
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Highway

A main public road, especially one connecting towns and cities.
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Nov 07, 2023

Freeway

See expressway.
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Highway

(historical) A road that is higher than the surrounding land and has drainage ditches at the sides
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Freeway

A highway without tolls.
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Highway

A main public road, especially a multi-lane, high-speed thoroughfare.
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Freeway

(In parts of Canada, the U.S. and Australia) A highway with grade-separated crossings (rather than level crossings) and designed (and only permitted) for high-speed motor-traffic running in two directions on one separate carriageway each
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Highway

(figurative) A way; a path that leads to a certain destiny
You're on a highway to greatness.
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Freeway

A toll-free highway.
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Highway

Any public road for vehicular traffic.
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Freeway

A broad highway designed for high-speed traffic
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Highway

(computing) bus
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Highway

To travel on a highway
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Highway

A road or way open to the use of the public, especially a paved main road or thoroughfare between towns; in the latter sense it contrasts with local street; as, on the highways and byways.
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Highway

A major road for any form of motor transport
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Repeatedly Asked Queries

Are all freeways highways?

Yes, all freeways are a specific type of highway.
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Are freeways safer than highways?

Freeways often have fewer points of conflict (like intersections), which can reduce certain accident risks.
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What defines a freeway?

A freeway is a high-speed, controlled-access highway without tolls or intersections.
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Why are there no traffic signals on a freeway?

Freeways are designed for continuous traffic flow without stops.
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What is a highway?

A highway is a major public road system used for travel between areas.
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Can highways have tolls?

Yes, some highways require the payment of tolls.
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Do freeways have rest stops?

Many freeways have designated rest stops for travelers.
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How are freeways funded?

Freeways are usually funded by state or federal governments and are often toll-free.
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Can a highway become a freeway?

A highway can be upgraded to a freeway if it's redesigned for controlled-access.
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Are freeways always multiple lanes?

Most freeways are multiple lanes to support the volume and speed of traffic.
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Do highways always connect cities?

Highways connect cities but can also serve local or regional traffic.
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Can businesses be accessed directly from a freeway?

No, freeways do not allow direct property access; service areas are accessed via exits.
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Can freeways reduce travel time?

Yes, freeways are designed to reduce travel time between distant points.
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Is it illegal to stop on a freeway?

Generally, stopping on a freeway is only legal in emergencies.
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Why do highways have speed limits?

Highways have speed limits to enhance safety, especially where there are intersections or residential areas.
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Can pedestrians use highways?

Some highways permit pedestrians, but freeways generally do not.
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What maintenance do freeways require?

Freeways require regular maintenance for surfaces, signs, and safety features.
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Why do some highways have lights but freeways usually don't?

Highways may have lights for intersections and safety; freeways use overhead lighting only where necessary, like interchanges.
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How are highways funded?

Highways can be funded by local, state, or federal governments, and sometimes through tolls.
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Are bicycles allowed on highways?

Bicycles can be allowed on certain highways but are banned from freeways.
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About Author
Shumaila Saeed
Written by
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed, an expert content creator with 6 years of experience, specializes in distilling complex topics into easily digestible comparisons, shining a light on the nuances that both inform and educate readers with clarity and accuracy.

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