Turnpiking represented a major transport innovation in applying use-based revenues to the increased investment that improved road quality. Mortgage finance was used from the 1750s to permit large-scale engineering work, bridge-building, and improvement of both surfaces and lines. The benefits were reflected in reduced travel times: Edinburgh, ten days from London by the fastest coach in 1754, was only four days away by 1776, and 40 hours by 1840. The cost of travel fell substantially in real terms, and road transport became up to three times more productive between the 1690s and the 1840s as a result of turnpiking. National perceptions of distance shifted fundamentally, and travel began to become a consumer good.
J. A. Chartres
Turnpikes are toll roads: the user pays a fee to travel the road. Only after the user paid the toll would the gatekeeper turn the "pike" or gate to allow the wagon or carriage on to the road. This practice, which was established in England in the 1700s, arrived in the United States in the late 1700s when turnpike companies began surfacing roads and building bridges for a profit. The first American turnpike was built in 1785 in Virginia. The first major U.S. turnpike that was publicly financed was Pennsylvania's Lancaster Road: some 5,000 investors subscribed 30 dollars each to buy shares in the turnpike that was made of stone and gravel and connected Philadelphia to Lancaster. It opened in 1794 after two years of construction. The project inspired similar projects and around the turn of the century hundreds of turnpike companies emerged. They improved existing routes and established new ones; stagecoach travel increased as a result. As a transportation improvement, the toll roads were a big success for the developing nation. As a private business endeavor, however, toll roads proved a failure. Traveler's fees usually covered only maintenance. By 1825 turnpike companies' stocks had become worthless and most companies folded. Thereafter the government began operating toll roads as a way to finance pike projects: those who would use them had to pay fees. In this way, the taxpayer's burden was reduced.
turn·pike / ˈtərnˌpīk/ • n. 1. an expressway, esp. one on which a toll is charged. ∎ hist. a toll gate. ∎ (also turnpike road) hist. a road on which a toll was collected at such a gate. 2. hist. a spiked barrier fixed in or across a road or passage as a defense against sudden attack.