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Shunpiking is the act of deliberately avoiding roads that require payment of a fee or toll to travel on them, usually by traveling on alternative "free" roads which bypass the toll road. The term comes from the word shun, meaning "to avoid", and pike, a term referring to turnpikes, which is another name for toll roads.[1] People who often avoid toll roads sometimes call themselves shunpikers. Historically, certain paths around tollbooths came to be so well known they were called "shun-pikes".[2]

Shunpiking has also come to mean an avoidance of major highways (regardless of tolls) in preference for bucolic and scenic interludes along lightly traveled country roads.

Early shunpikes

Shunpikes were known in the United States soon after independence. In the mid-1700s, Samuel Rice built a road over the Hoosac Range in northwestern Massachusetts, near the present Hoosac Tunnel.[3] Subsequently, a nearby road for stagecoaches was built around 1787, which became subject to control of the Turnpike Association incorporated in 1797.[3] People desiring to avoid the turnpike fees took the Rice Road instead of the stage road, and so the Rice Road earned the sobriquet “shunpike”.[3]

Contributing to open free travel, in 1797 the thrifty travelers of the Mohawk Trail forded the Deerfield River rather than pay toll at the turnpike bridge; in 1810 they won the battle for free travel on all Massachusetts roads.[4][5]

A shunpike in Morris County, New Jersey, dates back to 1804;[6] one near Mount Holly, Vermont, was in existence at least as early as 1809;[7] and one in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire, was created circa 1810.

A newspaper article in the New Jersey Journal of March 6, 1804 (p. 4), references a house for sale on Shunpike Road between Morristown and Elizabethtown (Elizabeth), New Jersey. This "Shunpike Road", parts of which are still extant, was in existence the same year that the turnpike it was used to avoid, the Morris Turnpike, was opened for business: 1804. It ran southwest of and parallel to the Morris Turnpike, now called "Old Turnpike Road". It was formed by the improvement and connection of sideroads to enable country people to avoid the expenses of the tolls. Shunpike Road ran through the towns of Bottle Hill (now Madison), Chatham, Summit and Springfield.[8]

When the Hampton Falls Turnpike was built in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire, around 1810 by the Hampton Causeway Turnpike Corporation, a toll was charged to cross it at the Taylor River. "Not content with the payment of a toll, some of the residents got together and built a slight bridge called the 'Shunpike' across the Taylor's River, some distance west of the Turnpike bridge, where travelers and teamsters could cross without charge. This continued on until April 12, 1826, when the toll on the Turnpike was discontinued and has remained a free road to this day."[9]

Historical boycott in Virginia

An example of shunpiking as a form of boycott occurred at the James River Bridge in eastern Virginia, United States. After years of lower than anticipated revenues on the narrow, privately funded structure built in 1928, the Commonwealth of Virginia finally purchased the facility in 1949. However, rather than announcing a long-expected decrease in tolls, the state officials increased the rates in 1955 without visibly improving the roadway, with the notable exception of building a new toll plaza.

The increased toll rates incensed the public and business users alike. In a well-publicized example of shunpiking, Joseph W. Luter Jr., head of Smithfield Packing Company (the producer of Smithfield Hams), ordered his truck drivers to take different routes and cross smaller and cheaper bridges. Despite the boycott by Luter and others, tolls continued for 20 more years. They were finally removed from the old bridge in 1975 when construction began on a toll-free replacement structure.

United States


Prior to the removal of tolls in 1985, the Connecticut Turnpike had eight mainline toll barriers instead of a ticket system that was typically used on the turnpikes of that era. While the Connecticut Turnpike was officially considered a toll road for its entire 129-mile length, the placement of mainline toll barriers and the lack of ramp tolls meant the only sections of the Turnpike that were truly tolled were between the interchanges immediately before and following each mainline barrier. Consequentially, motorists familiar with the local area around each of the toll barriers could essentially travel the Turnpike toll-free by exiting before the toll plaza, use local streets to bypass the toll, and re-enter the Turnpike past the toll plaza.


There is a toll of $4 in each direction on the 11-mile (18 km) Delaware Turnpike, or I-95. It is the third most expensive turnpike in the United States when calculated per mile. Since the turnpike does not use ramp tolls, only imposing a toll on drivers passing through a toll plaza just east of the Maryland state line, the toll is easily avoided by using local roads. By taking the last exit of I-95 in Maryland, MD 279, one can continue northbound on MD 279, cross into Delaware on DE 279, turn right at Christiana Parkway (DE 4/DE 896), and make another right onto DE 896 and soon arrive once again at I-95.[10] Large trucks cannot use this detour as DE 4/DE 896 have width and weight restrictions.[11]

On January 10, 2019, DelDOT opened the US 301 toll road bypassing Middletown. Now all traffic entering Delaware using US 301 must pay a minimum $4 toll at the state line, with access to the old alignment cut off until after the toll point via Exit 2. Several new shunpikes have emerged, the most common being the historical alignment of MD 299 through Warwick or Levels Road, but neither is viable for trucks. A longer distance route involves using MD 300 in Maryland into Delaware (becoming DE 300 across the line) then turning onto US 13 to the free ramp back to DE 1 at Port Penn Road.


The Abraham Lincoln Bridge and John F. Kennedy Memorial Bridge are a pair of bridges that carry Interstate 65 across the Ohio River, connecting Jeffersonville, Indiana to downtown Louisville, Kentucky. On December 30, 2016, the Kentucky Department of Transportation implemented a toll to cross the bridges in either direction, ranging from $2 for vehicles with electronic transponders to $4 for vehicles paying by mail. The Clark Memorial Bridge, which makes the same crossing less than one mile west of the two I-65 bridges, remained free. This resulted in a 49% decrease in daily crossings on the Kennedy Bridge and a 75% increase in traffic on the Clark Memorial Bridge.[12]


Interstate 70 runs concurrently with the Pennsylvania Turnpike for 86 miles (138 km). Westbound travelers can exit I-70 in Maryland just south of the Pennsylvania border and enter Interstate 68, continuing along I-68's entire length through western Maryland and into West Virginia until arriving at Interstate 79, I-68's western terminus, in Morgantown. After merging onto I-79 north, a traveler can enter Pennsylvania and merge back onto I-70 in Washington, Pennsylvania, where I-70 and I-79 are briefly concurrent.

Despite the added mileage, the relatively non-congested roadways in western Maryland (combined with the various tunnels and pre-Interstate quality of the Pennsylvania Turnpike) make the toll-free trip nearly the same time as the toll route.[13] (The Pennsylvania Turnpike was grandfathered from modern Interstate standards.)


In Oklahoma east of Oklahoma City, Interstate 44 replaced old U.S. Route 66 as the main route in the form of the Turner Turnpike between Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and the Will Rogers Turnpike between Tulsa and the Missouri state line. However, locals have kept old 66 alive by using it for shunpiking instead of the locally unpopular toll expressway.[14]

In Britain

In the early 1990s, the management of the Severn Bridge doubled the tolls in one direction (England to Wales) and made the other direction free of charge, presumably to save on staff costs. As a result, many lorry drivers used the Severn Bridge in the free direction, but when travelling from England to Wales, crossed the Severn at Gloucester, where there was no charge, and then drove through the Forest of Dean. Tolls on the Severn Crossings were abolished in 2018.[15]

The M6 Toll became the first motorway other than bridges to charge drivers. Drivers can avoid the toll by staying on the M6, which is shorter than the toll road, though usually more congested.

In Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, when crossing Victoria Harbour between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon/New Kowloon, most drivers and businesses prefer the much cheaper, and older, Cross-Harbour Tunnel (XHT), to the Western Harbour Crossing. The toll differences are particularly significant for lorries, coaches and buses. The government has proposed a subsidy to users of a third tunnel, the Eastern Harbour Crossing, to relieve the congestion through the XHT and around both ends of the XHT. The proposal of increasing the Cross Harbour Tunnel's prices and lowering that of the Eastern Harbour Crossing has yet to be put into practise.

A similar phenomenon exists with the Lion Rock Tunnel between Sha Tin New Town (and the rest of the eastern and northeastern New Territories) and New Kowloon. Most users prefer Lion Rock Tunnel to the Tate's Cairn Tunnel or Shing Mun Tunnels, or the Eagle's Nest-Sha Tin Heights Tunnels as the new tunnels are longer and more expensive. However, this problem is not as serious as the tunnels connecting Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.

In popular culture

The term "shunpiking" inspired the name of Stan Shunpike, the Knight Bus conductor in the Harry Potter stories.

See also


  1. ^ Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary definition of shunpike: "a side road used to avoid the toll on or the speed and traffic of a superhighway"; The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000. def of shunpiking Archived 2007-03-11 at the Wayback Machine: "To travel on side roads, avoiding turnpikes."
  2. ^ Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848, p.214
  3. ^ a b c Browne, William. The Mohawk trail: its history and course, with map and illustrations, together with an account of Fort Massachusetts and of the early turnpikes over Hoosac Mountain, pp. 24-25 (Sun Printing Co., 1920).
  4. ^ Mohawk and Taconic Trail Association, 1957; S.Welch volunteer
  5. ^ Memorial signage at N 42° 38.1176 W 072° 54.284, along the Mohawk Trail portion part of now Massachusetts Route 2.
  6. ^ New-Jersey Journal, Elizabeth-town, New Jersey, Tuesday, March 6, 1804, p.4
  7. ^ Rutland Herald, Rutland, Vermont, 21 February 1810 edition, p. 4: advertisement dated 23 December 1809.
  8. ^ William Parkhurst Tuttle, Bottle Hill and Madison: Glimpses and reminiscences from its earliest settlement to the Civil War. Madison, NJ: Madison Eagle Press, 1916.
  9. ^ John Holman, Hampton history volunteer, Lane Memorial Library (Hampton, NH), "The Turnpike v. The Shunpike"
  10. ^ "How slots revenue would break down". Archived from the original on 2009-02-16.
  11. ^ "Oversize / Overweight Permit System - Delaware Department of Transportation - State of Delaware".
  12. ^ "People aren't using Kentucky's new $1.3 billion bridge and highway system". The Architect’s Newspaper. 2018-11-30. Retrieved 2021-06-28.
  13. ^ "Google Driving Directions". Google Maps. Retrieved March 12, 2019.
  14. ^ "Article 9". Archived from the original on 2016-03-03. Retrieved 2013-09-18.
  15. ^ "Severn bridges: M4 Severn crossing reopens toll free". BBC News Online. 2018-12-17. Retrieved 2020-07-30.

Further reading

  • Exton, Peter. A Shunpiker's Guide to the Northeast: Washington to Boston without turnpikes or interstates / Peter Exton. McLean, VA: EPM Publications, c1988. 159 p. ill.; 22 cm. ISBN 0-939009-10-2