What’s the Point of Frontage Roads?


Frontage roads, access roads, feeder roads…whatever you call them, this type of local street that parallels a highway is ubiquitous in Texas and many other states. But why are they there and what do they do for us?

Well, let me start by defining a frontage road, for those of you who may not know what I’m talking about (*gasp*). According to Wikipedia, a frontage road is “a local road running parallel to a higher-speed limited access road.” In urban areas, frontage roads usually provide access to homes and businesses in which would normally be inaccessible from the highway or freeway. But in cases other than when they’re absolutely necessary, should they really be on all of our freeways?

First, let’s look at the advantages. In urban areas, frontage roads separate traffic and reduce congestion from the main highway. In addition, if the highway is closed or obstructed for whatever reason, frontage roads provide an easy alternate route for through traffic. Because of this, through traffic doesn’t have to congest all of the local roads by finding an alternate route.

There’s plenty of disadvantages too, though. The obvious disadvantage is that frontage roads cost more and use more space. Additionally, they create more conflict points for traffic when weaving into the frontage road. However, the worst problem may be that frontage roads facilitate urban sprawl in more suburban areas.

By providing easy access to any point along the freeway, frontage roads offer an easy means for uncontrolled expansion of urban areas. This, of course, has the potential to increase traffic problems in the long run, rather than having the opposite effect.

An interesting trend that I’ve noticed lately, particularly in Texas, is that frontage roads are built first in order to be used as the main highway prior to the actual freeway portion being built. (For example, SH 114 through North Fort Worth and Roanoke, and SH 360 through Mansfield.) This is generally done in more rural and suburban areas where there is little to no development along the highway corridor. In my opinion, this isn’t really necessary and potentially has the effect of creating urban sprawl.

In review, I believe that frontage roads can be a helpful thing, but only in certain circumstances. In urban areas with a lot of preexisting development, frontage roads are necessary. But in rural and suburban areas, I don’t think we should have continuous frontage roads, just plenty of exits to the main roads intersecting the freeway.

  • They actually can be amazing in not so urban areas. If you look at how they are used in smaller communities such as the area of 30 between Dallas and Greenville. There is a lot of traffic going on in that area however not so much on the density. Farming, rural life ect… as such the frontage roads turn two lanes. This allows access to the smaller roads then every mile or two more or less there is a turn around, exit, and over/underpass. In many instances interstates ate old highways making potential huge loops around farmlands and homes that might add miles in some cases and completely deny access if a major event were to happen to the minor road.

    Also if you drive around downtown Dallas I-30 or 635 Garland there is a lack of frontage roads. This makes getting on to the highway a literal nightmare. The intersection of Munger and I-30 that has gotten me more than once you can only access east bound 30 the next major road over is Fitzhugh and that would be alright but the major east west road is well away from 30 forcing any travelers who forget (which I’m betting is a lot, we are talking about the Greenville Ave./ Lakewood patrons) are using residential streets to get onto 30, and while I havn’t seen a traffic jam there it devalues the home value if there is a high volume of traffic and makes it unsafe for residents.

    Another example of this case is S. Garland Ave. and 635. You can only access west 635 in order to go east you must travel down Garland Ave. get on Northwest Highway and then get on 635. This intersection does in fact cause a lot more traffic then necessary, because while there are a few business around there there is also a lot of industry, most of the traffic is not to that area but traveling to other parts of the DFW and unless cleared up those roads will be needlessly upgraded.

    • I agree with a lot of your points here. I should have went more into depth on what it is that I dislike about frontage roads in my post. I don’t really like the trend of continuous frontage roads being constructed as a long-term plan to eventually build a freeway. They might as well just construct the freeway first, and leave room for frontage roads. Because a trend I’ve noticed is that when the frontage roads are built first, the traffic just ends up getting really bad and some of the backups at traffic signals are awful. And this is all happening with no short-term plan to build a freeway to relieve congestion. A good example of this is SH 360 through Mansfield.

  • In that case I totally agree with you, there should be a progression of a road such as either parkway or route or even state highway and then leave it like that until you upgrade to actual highway with frontage roads. To build frontage roads and no highway is like having suspenders with no pants.