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|Special Road • All-purpose Road • Smart Motorway
A motorway is a road designated for the exclusive use of certain types of motorised traffic. They are usually built to high standards, often three or four lanes in each direction with a hard shoulder for emergency use. They are generally intended for strategic traffic - passenger and goods - and to carry heavy flows of traffic.
Despite common belief, motorway is a legal term, not an engineering term - it is entirely permissible for a motorway to exist as a single carriageway road (here is a list of examples), and it may contain traffic lights and roundabouts along its length. Equally, high-standard roads are not automatically motorways.
In the United Kingdom motorways are signed in blue, and have a separate numbering system to the rest of the network. They are legally defined as being a particular type of Special Road where the only traffic allowed is contained within Class I (cars, motorcycles and light vans with pneumatic tyres) or Class II (goods vehicles and military vehicles).
In the Republic of Ireland, motorways are considered to be part of the relevant National Route, and motorway restrictions (defined under s.43 of the Roads Act 1993) can be applied using legislation laid out under s.49 of the act.
Types of Motorway
HE states that a Conventional Motorway is one which typically has 3 lanes in each direction (can vary though), a Hard Shoulder, and some technology, in practice any motorway that hasn't been upgraded to a smart motorway. Some A roads with Motorway designation also fall into this category such as the A1(M)
Since 2006 HE has been upgrading motorways into Smart Motorways by turning the Hard Shoulder into an extra running lane. These motorways have additional technology and Variable Speed limits as well as Emergency Refuge Areas.
An expressway is a new official term used by HE for upgrading an All-purpose Road Dual Carriageway into a Motorway alike designation. These roads typically only have 2 lanes, however some due for this upgrade currently have 3 or 4 lanes in each direction. These roads will have Emergency Refuge Areas and some technology (somewhere between the amount on a Conventional Motorway and a smart Motorway). These roads will have the road numbers changed this is likely to be getting an (M) on the end of their A numbers.