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Highway vs. Expressway — What's the Difference?

Edited by Tayyaba Rehman — By Fiza Rafique — Updated on September 21, 2023
A highway is a main road intended for travel between cities and towns. An expressway is a high-speed, limited-access highway designed for faster and more efficient travel, often with no traffic lights and restricted entry and exit points.
Highway vs. Expressway — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Highway and Expressway


Key Differences

Both highways and expressways serve as major roadways intended for long-distance travel, but they differ in design and usage.
Highways can have varying numbers of lanes and may include stoplights, intersections, and more frequent access points. Expressways, on the other hand, are specifically designed for higher speed limits and usually have controlled access, which means limited entry and exit points.
Highways often pass through both rural and urban areas, facilitating both local and long-distance travel. Expressways, however, are generally aimed at bypassing congested urban areas to allow for more efficient, faster travel between larger cities or regions.It is not uncommon for portions of a highway to become an expressway under certain conditions. For example, a highway may become an expressway as it approaches and bypasses a major city.
Generally, expressways are more likely to be toll roads, whereas highways are usually free. This is not a universal rule, but it tends to be a frequent characteristic. While expressways aim to facilitate high-speed, uninterrupted travel, highways serve a broader range of transportation needs, including local travel.

Comparison Chart


Varies, can have stoplights
High-speed, no stoplights

Access Points

More frequent
Restricted, limited entry/exit

Speed Limit

Generally lower

Area Served

Rural and urban
Often bypasses urban areas


Less common
More likely to be toll roads

Compare with Definitions


Can have multiple lanes and stoplights.
The highway through town had several stoplights.


A high-speed highway with limited access.
The expressway helps us avoid city traffic.


Often managed by state or federal agencies.
The highway is undergoing repairs by the state department.


Often requires toll payments.
You'll need a toll pass for the expressway.


A highway is any public or private road or other public way on land. It is used for major roads, but also includes other public roads and public tracks.


Usually has no stoplights.
The expressway allows for faster travel.


A main road, especially one connecting major towns or cities
The highway to success
A six-lane highway


Meant for long-distance, uninterrupted travel.
The expressway connects several major cities.


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


Generally has multiple lanes for each direction.
The expressway has four lanes going each way.


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


An urban motorway.


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


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


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


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


Any public road for vehicular traffic.


A road built to freeway standards.


(computing) bus


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


To travel on a highway


A broad highway designed for high-speed traffic


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 main road for travel between cities.
We took the highway to visit grandma.


Serves both local and long-distance travel.
The highway was busy with both local and out-of-town traffic.


May or may not be a toll road.
This highway is toll-free.

Common Curiosities

Can a road be both a highway and an expressway?

Yes, portions of a highway can meet the criteria of an expressway.

Do expressways have stoplights?

Generally no, expressways are designed for uninterrupted flow.

Are highways usually toll roads?

Highways are less commonly toll roads compared to expressways.

What is an expressway?

An expressway is a high-speed, limited-access highway.

Can a highway have intersections?

Yes, highways can have intersections and stoplights.

Do expressways bypass cities?

Often, expressways are designed to bypass congested areas.

What’s the speed limit on an expressway?

Speed limits on expressways are generally higher than on highways.

Can local traffic use the highway?

Yes, highways often serve both local and long-distance travel.

What is a highway?

A highway is a main road designed for travel between cities and towns.

Who manages highways?

Highways are usually managed by state or federal agencies.

Can an expressway become a highway?

If an expressway gains intersections or stoplights, it may lose its expressway status.

What's the main purpose of an expressway?

The main purpose is to facilitate high-speed, long-distance travel.

Do all expressways require a toll?

No, but tolls are more common on expressways than on highways.

Are highways rural or urban?

Highways can go through both rural and urban areas.

Are expressways safer than highways?

Safety varies, but expressways often have design features aimed at reducing accidents.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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