What is a Limited Access Area on a Highway and How to Navigate it Safely?

I've been driving for over 30 years and though I see the signs "limited access area" on roadsigns in Washington State, I'm still unaware of what those areas really do for us as a driver.

getty images
getty images

What is a Limited Access Area on a Washington Highway and Why is it Important?

I thought I'd break it down for you, as a refresher or as a new driver on the road, it's always good information.

As I was driving back from Walla Walla this weekend, I noticed the signs as I approached Wallula and right next to the paper mill.

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These limited access areas refer to specific zones on the highway that are restricted to certain types of traffic and modes of transportation.

By SounderBruce - Own workFlickr copy: US 2 eastbound, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40951112
By SounderBruce - Own workFlickr copy: US 2 eastbound, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40951112

The purpose of these areas is to ensure safety and efficiency and to reduce accidents.

Key characteristics of limited access areas on a highway include:

  1. Restricted Entry and Exit: Limited access areas are designed to have specific entry and exit ramps, often equipped with on-ramps and off-ramps. These ramps are carefully designed to regulate the flow of traffic onto and off the highway.
  2. No At-Grade Crossings: Unlike regular roads where vehicles can cross the highway at intersections or crosswalks, limited access highways typically do not have at-grade crossings (crossings at the same level as the highway). Pedestrians and vehicles are typically not allowed to enter or cross the highway except at designated access points.
  3. High Speeds: Limited access highways are designed for higher speeds, with fewer interruptions and intersections. This allows for smoother and faster traffic flow over longer distances.
  4. Limited Driveways and Intersections: The number of driveways, side streets, and intersections along the highway is minimized to reduce the potential for congestion and accidents.
  5. Safety Barriers: In many cases, limited access highways have safety features like guardrails, concrete dividers (median barriers), and improved signage to enhance driver safety.

As you can see limited access areas are essential in keeping our highways and roads safe and efficient.

driving car on highway, close up of hands on steering wheel

These zones restrict access to certain types of transportation and traffic, which helps to reduce congestion and decrease the risk of accidents.

If you have wondered what those signs mean in Washington State, now you know. You can read more about limited-access highways here.

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