Scandinavian Working Papers in Economics

Ratio Working Papers,
The Ratio Institute

No 30: America’s Toll Roads Heritage: The Achievements of Private Initiative in the 19th Century

Daniel Klein () and John Majewski ()
Additional contact information
Daniel Klein: Department of Economics, Postal: Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, CA 95053, USA, and, The Ratio Institute, P.O. Box 5095, SE-102 42 Stockholm, Sweden
John Majewski: Department of History, Postal: Department of History, University of California, Santa Barbara, 93106, USA

Abstract: Private toll roads shaped and accommodated trade and migration routes, leaving social and political imprints on the communities that debated and supported them. Private road building came and went in waves throughout the 19th century and across the country. All told, between 2,500 and 3,200 companies successfully financed, built, and operated their toll road. Although most of these roads operated for only a fraction of the 100+ period, the combined mileage of private toll roads that operated at any point in time would be in range of 30,000 to 52,000 miles. The paper explores the character, methods, and purposes of the private toll roads, and draws lessons for the privatization of highways today.

Keywords: toll roads; turnpikes; plank roads; privatization; free riding; regulation

JEL-codes: L92; N71; N91

40 pages, December 29, 2003

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