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Autostrade of Italy

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The Italian motorway / freeway system is made up of the Autostrada (plural: Autostrade). The network is generally around 6,500 km / 4,000 miles long and has a subsystem of Superstrada (plural: Superstrade), which are often built to expressway standards that are close to freeway standards.

The first Italian Autostrada opened in 1924, known as the "Autostrada dei Laghi" (motorway of the lakes) in the North of Italy. It has present-day numbers A8 and A9. Although it was the earliest Autostrada, it didn't feature more than 2 undivided lanes, but it had limited access and was a toll road. Back in those days, only 85,000 vehicles were circulating on the Italian road network.

Construction speed picked up in the 1920's and 1930's with hundreds of miles of new Autostrada. It remains a point of discussion which Autostrada was the first to feature at least 4 lanes and a divided roadway. Naturally, construction was halted during the Second World War, and didn't continue until the late 1950's, and picked up speed in the 1960's. By 1975, most of the present-day Autostrada network was completed.

However, the 1975 "Buscalossi act" prohibited any new Autostrada. Only those under construction and with advanced plans could proceed. This law was abolished by Berlusconi in 2001. Hence, between approximately 1978 and around 2002, nearly no new Autostrada was completed, which was mainly a problem in the lesser developed areas of Italy, such as Tuscany, Umbria, Puglia, Sicily and Sardinia.

The Italian Autostrada network is modern, and with a few exceptions, well designed. The mountainous areas feature an extraordinary amount of tunnels, unlike anything you see in the United States, or most of Europe for that matter. It's not uncommon to have a 100 miles of Autostrada that are over 60 - 70% underground.

Many Autostrade feature 2x3 or 2x4 lanes. The network is designed for speed, and the speed limit is 80 miles per hour, although there is legislation (highway code) to increase the speed limit to 95 miles per hour on certain sections, but it hasn't been implemented yet. Traffic volumes are high around cities and between cities in the north of the country. Traffic is lighter in central and southern Italy, which is less developed and more sparsely populated.

There are a couple of major projects to widen and realign existing Autostrade, for example the A1 between Bologna and Florence, and a very long section of A3 between Salerno and Reggio Calabria in southern Italy. The A3 features some of the tallest viaducts in Europe, and runs through a difficult mountainous area. Besides these projects, many Autostrade have been widened, or will be widened to six lanes for hundreds of kilometers in a row.

The Italian signage is considered one of the worst, or the worst in Europe by many European road enthusiasts. Italy uses green signs with white capitalized letters on motorways and blue signs on non-motorways. An overload of destinations are present in cities. It's not uncommon to find a directional sign with 10 or 15 local destinations. Distance tableaux are largely absent, and road numbers are small (often too small). There is very little consistency.

I will show some images of Italian signage in the next post.

Exit signage

An example of exit signage in Italy, exit Meina on Autostrada A26 in the foothills of the Alps.

1. Advance notice. Usually at 700 or 1000 m, depending on tunnels or other exits. Note nearly all Italian exits are designed at 40 km/h only!

ch 782 by Chriszwolle, on Flickr

2. Additional destinations reached via this "uscita" (exit). Lago d'Orta means "Lake Orta", a major tourist destination.

ch 783 by Chriszwolle, on Flickr

3. At the exit itself. A very basic sign, only the E-number is signed while this road is mainly known as A26. The arrows don't match with the number of lanes, an inconsistency found all over Italy.

ch 784 by Chriszwolle, on Flickr

4. Distance signs after the exit are generally absent.

ch 785 by Chriszwolle, on Flickr

Toll station

Most Italian Autostrade are toll roads, except some routes in the southern part of the country, and urban Autostrade.

1. Alt Stazione literally means "stop station".

ch 786 by Chriszwolle, on Flickr

2. Telepass is an electronic toll system, use right lane.

ch 787 by Chriszwolle, on Flickr

3. Additional signage indicating to slow down.

ch 788 by Chriszwolle, on Flickr

4. A "biglietto" means "ticket". Most Italian Autostrade are a closed toll system with tickets. Note the distance sign to the left, these are the only distance signs you'll see on Italian motorways.

ch 789 by Chriszwolle, on Flickr

5. This is a rather small barrier, where you only have to get a ticket. You'll pay at your exit.

ch 790 by Chriszwolle, on Flickr

Since large areas of Italy form a closed toll system, it is possible to drive much more miles than you're paying for. For example, this route will be treated like you've driven this route.

The Italian tolls are generally between € 0.05 to € 0.08 per kilometer, with some mountainous motorways being slightly more expensive. The most expensive is A32 from Turin to the west at € 0.15 per kilometer. Generally speaking, Italy's motorways are cheaper than in France or Spain.

freeway interchange

Italy has an extensive amount of freeway-to-freeway interchanges, especially in the north of the country. They are often creatively designed, and this one must be the craziest of them all.

1. The road widens to 3 lanes.

ch 812 by Chriszwolle, on Flickr

2. An advance sign indicating destinations to be reached. This layout is rather similar to the Swiss interchange signage. Notice the unreadable road numbers.

ch 813 by Chriszwolle, on Flickr

3. A more basic sign, not all destinations are repeated.

ch 814 by Chriszwolle, on Flickr

4. Downward arrows at the divergence point. Notice this interchange does not has a separate C/D lane, but a third lane is simply added.

ch 815 by Chriszwolle, on Flickr

5. Since two Autostrade cross here, there are also two exits.

ch 816 by Chriszwolle, on Flickr

6. Font size does not tend to be standardized, they just pick the largest that fits on a sign.  :pan:

ch 817 by Chriszwolle, on Flickr

7. The third lane continues here as a regular lane.

ch 818 by Chriszwolle, on Flickr

8. Minimum speeds on the lanes. Trucks are not allowed in the leftmost lane.

ch 819 by Chriszwolle, on Flickr

9. This is what I call driving! Notice the dots on the side, these are to indicate a safe following distance during fog. The whole Po valley is susceptible to dense fog with visibility less than 150 feet.

ch 820 by Chriszwolle, on Flickr


--- Quote from: Chris on September 11, 2010, 06:39:15 AM ---freeway interchange

Italy has an extensive amount of freeway-to-freeway interchanges, especially in the north of the country. They are often creatively designed, and this one must be the craziest of them all.

--- End quote ---
Eh, just your typical interior cloverleaf.

BTW I also have assorted photos of Italian autostrada (though usually more focused on signs).


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