What is a Toll Bridge?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 24 November 2019
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A toll bridge is structure that allows passage for a fee. Common in road systems, toll bridges have existed in some form for thousands of years. Modern toll bridges tend to benefit local, state, or federal governments, and are popular methods of supporting transportation improvement and repair.

Toll bridges originally began as private enterprises. If a road passed through a private owner's land, the owner could charge for use of his bridges and roadways. Roads that crossed large bodies of water such as rivers also used to form of toll payment; in exchange for ferrying passengers across the river, the ferryman would receive a fee in money or goods.

As roads came to be the property of the state, toll bridges were implemented to fund road building and repair projects as well as maintenance for the bridge itself. While an excellent idea in theory, a toll bridge can cause some problems for both travelers and workers. Inefficient payment methods or insufficient traffic lanes with toll booths can cause severe traffic backups for miles behind the toll bridge. Many modern toll bridges in densely populated areas decrease this problem by allowing many forms of payment and offering monthly or yearly passes that allow subscribers to quickly pass through the lines.


In the early days, a barrier or a toll worker often prevented non-payers from crossing the toll bridge. Today, with most toll bridges operating under the auspices of the government, stiff fines and traffic tickets are typically the penalty for refusing to pay. Many toll booths feature closed circuit video systems or cameras that take pictures of an offending vehicle's license plate and send the fine or ticket to the owner's home address.

Toll bridges often do not charge fees to certain kinds of vehicles. Buses, government officials, and even some transportation truck may not have to pay for crossing. However, in order to maintain accurate data on bridge use and statistics, almost all vehicles still have to stop at most toll booths before continuing on their journeys.

Many people like to indulge in charitable or “good karma” behavior when crossing a toll bridge. In some cases, a driver will choose to pay for the next vehicle as well as her own, in order to give a stranger a pleasant surprise. Occasionally, this can lead to good karma chain, where each new driver returns the favor for the next person in line.

Many famous bridges across the world charge tolls for vehicle crossings, though most do not charge for walking across the bridge on foot where permissible. England's London Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco, and Dublin's oddly shaped Ha'penny Bridge all charge tolls. Most bridges into urban centers charge a toll only upon entering the city or in one direction, in order to prevent traffic jams and reduce ill feelings toward toll bridges in general.


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