Private highways in the United States

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The Chicago Skyway is privately owned by the Skyway Concession Company

There are many private highways in the United States.

The Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike, begun in 1792 between Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Lancaster, Pennsylvania was the first major American turnpike. According to Gerald Gunderson's Privatization and the 19th-Century Turnpike, "In the first three decades of the 19th century Americans built more than 10,000 miles [16,000 km] of turnpikes, mostly in New England and the Middle Atlantic states. Relative to the economy at that time, this effort exceeded the post-World War II interstate highway system that present-day Americans assume had to be primarily planned and financed by the federal government".[1] Because electronics did not exist in that era, all tolls had to be collected by human cashiers at toll booths, creating high fixed costs that could only be covered by a large volume of traffic. As railroads and steamboats began to compete with the turnpikes, the companies started to shut down their less profitable routes or turn them over to governments. (See Category:Pre-freeway turnpikes in the United States for a listing.)

The National Bridge Inventory lists roughly 2,200 privately owned highway bridges in 41 states and Puerto Rico.[2]

Indiana Toll Road[edit]

Main article: Indiana Toll Road

In what may serve as a "test case" for the privatization of other major highways in the United States, on June 29, 2006, the state of Indiana received $3.8 billion from a foreign consortium made up of the Spanish construction firm Cintra and the Macquarie Infrastructure Group of Australia, and in exchange the state ceded operation of the 157-mile (253 km) Indiana Toll Road for the next 75 years to these outside corporations. The consortium will collect all the tolls.[3]

Reedy Creek Improvement District[edit]

The Reedy Creek Improvement District, established in 1967, operates six-lane freeways in the Walt Disney World area near Orlando, Florida. Technically, the RCID is a public corporation administered by a five-member Board of Supervisors elected by area landowners.[4] However, through a carefully constructed legal framework, Disney operates the roads and utilities as wholly owned subsidiaries, rather than as a public-private partnership.

Disney is the primary landowner and controls the remaining land through contractual arrangements. In this way, the company is able to hand-pick the landowning electorate. An Associated Press article notes, "Board members are non-Disney business people from central Florida and must own at least an acre [4,000 m²] in the district".[5] A Florida Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability report explains the contractual arrangement as follows: "Historically, each board member has been deeded approximately five acres [20,000 m²] of land by an affiliate of the Walt Disney World Co. . . . According to RCID officials, a Walt Disney World Co. affiliate has the exclusive option to purchase land back from board members at any time".[6] Landowners also have a right to recall board members before the completion of their four-year terms.

Financial arrangements are also circular. According to the RCID Finance Department, Walt Disney Co. is RCID's largest taxpayer, paying about 86% of the District's taxes in 2004. The remaining taxpayers are board members and lessees of property owned by Disney affiliates (e.g., House of Blues, Travelodge, and Hilton) paying ad valorem taxes. An American Prospect article notes, "Disney pays taxes to Reedy Creek, which gives the money straight back to Disney, and the circle is closed".[7]

Dalton Highway[edit]

Main article: Dalton Highway

The Dalton Highway in Alaska was built in 1974 to allow construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. It runs 400 miles (640 km) from near Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean. Rather than relieving congestion, the highway was built to allow access to the Prudhoe Bay oilfields, which before were inaccessible. Permits were required to drive it until 1995, but it is currently owned by the state of Alaska and open to the public.[8]


AB 680, passed in 1989, allowed up to four private highway franchises to be granted.[9] The 91 Express Lanes in the median of the Riverside Freeway were privately owned and operated by a private consortium (one of the members of which was Cofiroute, France's largest private highway operator) from 1995 to 2003.[10]

Dulles Greenway[edit]

Main article: Dulles Greenway

The Dulles Greenway, Virginia's first private toll road since 1816, is a 14 mile (23 km) highway connecting Washington Dulles International Airport with Leesburg, Virginia. In 1988, the Virginia General Assembly authorized private development of toll roads. To take advantage of this opportunity, the Bryant/Crane family of Middleburg, Virginia, AIE, L.L.C., and Kellogg, Brown and Root of Houston, Texas joined together to form Toll Road Investors Partnership II (TRIP II). Brown & Root constructed the road with private funds, opening it for traffic on September 29, 1995. Autostrade International, a company with over 30 years of experience in the development, construction, maintenance, and operation of Italian toll road networks, formed an American subsidiary to take over operation of the Greenway.[11]

The Greenway has several methods of expediting traffic flow. Six traffic lanes, a uniform 65 mph (105 km/h) speed limit, and a complete absence of traffic lights keep traffic moving at a steady pace. In addition, electronic toll collection, using the Virginia Department of Transportation's Smart Tag system, enables Smart Tag lanes to "process five times as many vehicles per hour as conventional cash payment lanes".[12]

The Dulles Greenway charges a fixed amount for use of the road, regardless of whether the driver exits before driving the complete length of the Greenway. In 2004, the operators won approval from the State Corporation Commission to increase tolls from $2.00 to $3.00 per car.[13] In 2005, Tom Sines of TRIP II announced plans for widening the highway, adding two new exits, expanding the main toll plaza, building a ramp to the airport, and reconfiguring an exit as a cloverleaf interchange.[14]


In early 2007, there were plans for a private developer, Cintra-Zachry, to invest $1.3 billion to build a 40-mile (64 km) toll-funded southward extension to complete the "Trans-Texas Corridor."[15][16] However, also in 2007, the Texas legislature enacted legislation placing a two-year moratorium on private equity toll concessions.[17][18]


In 2006, Mayor Daley leased out the Chicago Skyway for 99 years for $1.8 billion.[19] The road had lost money for decades and only recently turned a profit.[20]


The Colorado legislature considered a bill to ban use of eminent domain to condemn private property for private highway construction.[21][22][23] Such legislation was vetoed in 2005, but a compromise bill was enacted into law in 2006. The new law requires toll road developers to get approval from cities and counties affected by a proposed road and requires projects to go through a transportation department approval process, complete with an environmental assessment.[24]

The Super Slab is a proposed private highway that would run from north of Fort Collins to south of Pueblo. It sparked a debate on the use of eminent domain for such purposes. Opponents proposed the Castle Rock Alternative Parkway, which would run through the home of Super Slab developer Ray Wells.[25]

Toll roads to serve development[edit]

In addition to many private toll roads built to serve ordinary travel needs, some have been built to serve new housing developments. Those include the following:


  1. ^ Gunderson, Gerald: Privatization and the 19th-Century Turnpike, Cato Journal, Vol. 9, No. 1, Spring/Summer 1989.
  2. ^ Questions and Answers on National Bridge Inspection Standards
  3. ^ Schulman, Daniel (2007-01-01). "The Highwaymen". Mother Jones. Retrieved 2007-04-30. 
  4. ^ About RCID, Reedy Creek Improvement District.
  5. ^ Schneider, Mike: Disney Rescue Workers in Labor Dispute, The Associated Press, Jan. 18, 2004.
  6. ^ Central Florida's Reedy Creek Improvement District Has Wide-Ranging Authority, Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, Report No. 04-81, Dec. 2004.
  7. ^ Wolf, Joshua: Hidden Kingdom: Disney's Political Blueprint, The American Prospect, Inc., Volume 6, Issue 21, Mar. 21, 1995.
  8. ^ Dalton Highway, otherwise known as the Haul Road
  9. ^
  10. ^ OCTA - Overview
  11. ^ Dulles Greenway home page.
  12. ^
  13. ^ GMI Fall 1997 Growth Management Reporter
  14. ^ Dulles Greenway Expanding, ABCNews, Mar. 4, 2005.
  15. ^ TACKLING THE "TIME TAX" | National Center for Policy Analysis
  16. ^ LONG-TERM CONCESSIONS PAYING OFF | National Center for Policy Analysis
  17. ^ Texas Toll Road Moratorium Proceeds
  18. ^ Texas moratorium author, Sen Robert Nichols writes | Toll Roads News
  19. ^ SOCIALISM IN REVERSE | National Center for Policy Analysis
  20. ^ TOLL ROADS WITH A CASH-OUT OPTION | National Center for Policy Analysis
  21. ^$FILE/078_enr.pdf
  22. ^ Toll Road Controversy Changes Colorado Law On Private Takings | Planetizen
  23. ^ Owens' veto puts toll road developer back on track
  24. ^ Henley, Kyle (February 1, 2006). "Toll-road decision a victory, not end, for critics". The Gazette (Colorado Springs). 
  25. ^ Flynn, Kevin (May 5, 2005). Parkway proposal is slap at Slab. Rocky Mountain News.