less travelled

The term shunpiking comes from the word shun, meaning ‘to avoid,’ and pike, a term referring to turnpikes, which are roads that require payment of a toll to travel on them. People who often avoid toll roads sometimes call themselves shunpikers. 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.

The word ‘shunpike’ may have its origins in post-colonial New Hampshire: When the ‘Turnpike’ was built, around 1810 or so, by the Hampton Causeway Turnpike Corporation, a toll was charged to cross it at Taylor’s 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 River, some distance west of the Turnpike bridge, where travelers and teamsters could cross without charge. This continued on until 1826, when the toll on the Turnpike was discontinued and has remained a free road to this day

Some methods of shunpiking may be quicker than taking toll roads. Perhaps the best-known example is long-distance through traffic for Interstate 70, which for 86 miles runs concurrent with Interstate 76 along the Pennsylvania Turnpike. 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, West Virginia. 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 higher speed limit in West Virginia and relatively non-congested roadways in Western Maryland (combined with the various tunnels and pre-Interstate quality of the Pennsylvania Turnpike) makes the shunpiking trip quicker than the toll route. (The Pennsylvania Turnpike was grandfathered from modern Interstate standards.)

One such example of shunpiking as a form of boycott occurred at the James River Bridge in eastern Virginia. 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.

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