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Highway vs. Expressway: What's the Difference?

By Janet White || Published on December 20, 2023
A highway is a main road, often connecting cities, with varied traffic, while an expressway is a controlled-access highway designed for faster, uninterrupted travel.

Key Differences

Highways are major roads that facilitate travel between towns and cities, accommodating various types of vehicles and often having intersections and traffic signals. Expressways, however, are designed for high-speed vehicular traffic, typically with multiple lanes and limited access points to reduce interruptions.
The term highway encompasses a broader range of road types, from rural roads to urban thoroughfares, often with no restrictions on access. Expressways, in contrast, specifically refer to roads with controlled access, often forbidding pedestrians, bicycles, and slower vehicles.
Highways can have at-grade intersections, allowing direct access to properties and local roads. Expressways, on the other hand, usually have grade-separated intersections, with overpasses and underpasses to keep traffic flowing smoothly.
Maintenance and operational standards for highways vary widely, depending on their location and importance. Expressways are generally maintained to higher standards to ensure safe high-speed travel, with features like wider lanes and shoulders.
Highways often have lower speed limits compared to expressways due to their varied traffic and access points. Expressways typically have higher speed limits, reflecting their design for uninterrupted, faster travel.

Comparison Chart


Open to all traffic types
Limited to motor vehicles


At-grade, with signals or stops
Grade-separated; no direct cross traffic

Speed Limits

Generally lower
Higher for fast travel

Design Focus

Versatility for various uses
Speed and uninterrupted travel

Traffic Control

Varies, often includes lights and signs
Minimal, designed for continuous flow

Highway and Expressway Definitions


Highways serve as key routes for long-distance travel.
They took the coastal highway on their road trip.


Expressways often have multiple lanes and no traffic lights.
He prefers the expressway for its smooth, uninterrupted flow.


A highway is a major public road, typically connecting cities.
The highway was busy with traffic heading to the city.


Pedestrians and non-motorized vehicles are prohibited on expressways.
The expressway is designed exclusively for motorized traffic.


Highways often have diverse traffic, including trucks and buses.
The highway is crucial for transporting goods across states.


Expressways feature overpasses and underpasses at intersections.
The new expressway has an overpass over the railway line.


Highways may pass through towns, intersecting with local roads.
The highway runs through the center of our town.


An expressway is a controlled-access highway for fast travel.
The expressway cuts the travel time to the airport in half.


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


Expressways facilitate quicker, more efficient intercity travel.
The expressway has reduced the commute time to the neighboring city.


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


A major divided highway designed for high-speed travel, having few or no intersections. Also called freeway, limited access highway, superhighway, thruway.


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


A divided highway, especially one whose intersections and direct access to adjacent properties have been eliminated.


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


A road built to freeway standards.


Any public road for vehicular traffic.


A road built for high speed traffic, but not up to motorway standards or designated a motorway.


(computing) bus


A broad highway designed for high-speed traffic


To travel on a 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.


A major road for any form of motor transport


A highway can range from a two-lane road to a multi-lane road.
The new highway has four lanes to ease congestion.


Can bicycles use highways?

Bicycles can use some highways, but it depends on the specific highway's rules.

What is an expressway?

An expressway is a high-speed, controlled-access road designed for efficient travel.

Is it faster to travel on an expressway?

Generally, yes, expressways are designed for faster, more efficient travel.

Do expressways have traffic lights?

Expressways typically do not have traffic lights, allowing for uninterrupted flow.

Are expressways safer than regular highways?

Expressways are often safer due to their design that reduces intersections and mixed traffic types.

What is a highway?

A highway is a major road, often connecting cities and accommodating varied traffic.

Are expressways and highways the same?

No, expressways are a specific type of highway with controlled access and are designed for faster travel.

Can pedestrians walk on highways?

On some highways, yes, but it varies by location and the highway's design.

How are highways maintained?

Highways are maintained by government agencies, with standards varying by region.

Do all highways have multiple lanes?

Not all highways; some can be single-lane roads, especially in rural areas.

Do expressways reduce traffic congestion?

Yes, expressways are designed to reduce congestion by providing an alternative route.

Are there speed limits on highways?

Yes, highways have speed limits, which vary depending on the type and location.

Can emergency vehicles use expressways?

Yes, expressways are often used by emergency vehicles for quick access.

Are there tolls on highways?

Some highways, especially expressways, may have tolls, but it varies.

What is the main purpose of a highway?

The main purpose is to connect different regions, facilitating travel and transport.

What kind of signage is found on highways?

Highways have various signs for directions, exits, and regulations.

Are highways and expressways lit at night?

Many highways and expressways are lit, especially near urban areas, but this can vary.

Can trucks use expressways?

Yes, trucks are commonly found on expressways.

Do expressways connect cities?

Yes, expressways often connect major cities for efficient travel.

Can expressways have service areas?

Yes, many expressways have designated service areas for refueling and rest.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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