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A bypass is a road or highway that avoids or "bypasses" a built-up area, town, or village, to let through traffic flow without interference from local traffic, to reduce congestion in the built-up area, and to improve road safety.

If there are no strong land use controls, buildings are built along a bypass, converting it into an ordinary town road, and the bypass may eventually become as congested as the local streets it was intended to avoid. Shopping centres and some other companies often are built there for ease of access, while homes are often avoided for noise reasons.

United Kingdom

The idea of bypasses predates the use of motor vehicles. The first (northern) Londonmarker bypass, the present Marylebone Roadmarker between Paddingtonmarker and Islingtonmarker, was started in 1756.

Bypasses can take many years to gain planning approval and funding. Many towns and villages have been campaigning for bypasses for over 30 years e.g. Banwellmarker in North Somerset. Bypass routes are often controversial — by definition they require the building of a road carrying heavy traffic where no road previously existed. This creates a conflict between the those who support a bypass to reduce congestion in a built up area, and those who oppose the development of (often rural) undeveloped land.

United States

In the United Statesmarker, bypass routes are a type of special route used on an alternative routing of a highway around a town when the main route of the highway goes through the town. The original designation of these routes were "truck routes" to divert through truck traffic away from the town, but the designation was changed to "bypass" in 1959-1960 by AASHTO. However, many "Truck" routes remain where the mainline of the highway is prohibited for trucks.

In a few cases, both a bypass and a business route exist, both with auxiliary signs (i.e. U.S. Highway 60 in Lexington, Kentuckymarker). Bypass routes are less common than business routes. Many of those that existed before the era of Interstate highways have lost their old designations. For example in Missourimarker, the old bypass route of U.S. Highway 71 to the east of Kansas City, Missourimarker was decertified as Interstate 435 supplanted, the remainder that existed as suburban surface route becoming Missouri State Highway 291; around St. Louis, Missourimarker, what had been Bypass U.S. Highway 50 was absorbed into a diversion of U.S. Highway 50 from Interstate 44 and Interstate 64.

In the Interstate highway system in the United States, bypasses and loops are designated with a three digit number beginning with an even digit. Note, however, that this pattern is inconsistent enough that, as in greater Des Moines, Iowamarker the genuine bypass is the main route (in that case, Interstate 35 and Interstate 80, and the loop into downtown Des Moines is Interstate 235; or as in Omaha, Nebraskamarker, where Interstate 480 traverses their downtown area, which is bypassed by Interstate 80 and Interstate 680.

Another meaning of the term bypass route (usually simply called a bypass) is a highway that was constructed to bypass an area that is often congested with traffic. This includes Interstate highway beltways and U.S. Highways constructed to circumvent downtown areas. Examples of these are U.S. Route 60 bypassing Williamsburg, Virginiamarker, U.S. Routes 31 and 20 bypassing metro South Bend, Indianamarker (the St. Joseph Valley Parkway), and Interstate 75 bypassing Tampamarker and St. Petersburg, Floridamarker. These bypasses usually carry mainline routes rather than auxiliary "bypass" routes.

The first bypass route in the United States was completed in 1958, as Alabama State Route 210 (Ross Clark Circle) in Dothan, Alabama.


The term shoofly, while common in rail terminology, can also be applied to a short temporary roadway which bypasses a construction site or other obstruction. The U.S. Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices uses the term "diversion".


In the more densely populated southern part of Swedenmarker, many bypasses have been built, both as motorways and ordinary roads. Many cities and villages however still have main roads right through them. Municipality administrations are often lobbying to have a bypass for safety, noise and air quality reasons. In the northern parts of Sweden fewer bypasses have been built, especially in the sparsely populated interior. Here, municipality administrations are often lobbying against bypasses, since they are afraid of losing income from road travellers.


In Italy the most important bypass, built as motorway, is the Passante di Mestre (part of the Autostrada A4). Many other bypass were built but outside the motorway sistem.

Popular references

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, Arthur Dent's home is destroyed to make way for a bypass. A few minutes later, the entire Earth is destroyed by the Vogons to make way for a hyperspace bypass. In chapter 1, Adams explained what a bypass was:

Bypasses are devices that allow some people to dash from point A to point B very fast while other people dash from point B to point A very fast. People living at point C, being a point directly in between, are often given to wonder what’s so great about point A that so many people from point B are so keen to get there, and what’s so great about point B that so many people from point A are so keen to get there. They often wish that people would just once and for all work out where the hell they wanted to be.

See also

Types of special routes in the United States


  1. Banwell bypass
  2. MUTCD Section 6C.09

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