Types of roads and highways in India: Classification of roads

Team Ackodrive6, Jun, 2022

Roads are one of the oldest modes of transportation in India. Different types of highways and roads offer much-needed connectivity between states, cities, towns and villages. It has played a crucial role in our nation's economic, social, and even cultural development. In this article, we are discussing different kinds of roads and their importance in our country.

Types of Roads & Highways in India

Road network in India

The road network of India spans over 5.89 million kilometres, making it the second-largest in the world. This network supports the transportation of goods and allows people to travel across the country.

However, not all roads are alike. There are different kinds of roads connecting large cities, small towns, and villages with each other.

Also, read: 10 best cars for Indian roads: Learn more about top choices

Types of roads in India

The classification of roads can be done in many different ways. The following are some of the top factors that define the types of roads.

Materials

While constructing a road, the raw materials are decided based on the purpose and type of traffic it’s supposed to handle. Hence, you may notice gravel roads, bituminous roads, concrete roads, etc., across the country.

Location

This is probably the most common way of classifying roads in India. The location-based roads include national highways, state highways, district highways, and village/rural roads.

Topography

India has a diverse topography. Some regions are hilly, while others have plain surfaces, which impacts the kind of roads the government can construct.

The roads in plain areas offer a levelled surface to drive or ride your vehicle. These are usually straight roads that turn at intersections. On the other hand, roads in hilly areas have frequent turns, creating a spiral shape. Due to the extreme climatic conditions in hilly areas, roads require more frequent maintenance than roads in plain regions.

Traffic

One can also separate different types of roads in India based on their traffic situation. For instance, there are light, medium and high traffic roads, based on the volume of traffic a road receives. Similarly, you have pedestrian paths, cycle tracks, and motor vehicle roads, classifying roads in terms of the type of traffic a road receives. 

Economy

The cost of constructing a road depends on its function and location. The engineers conduct a traffic analysis to decide the best-suited material, width, and other aspects of road construction. Based on that, the roads can be classified into the following.

  • Low-cost roads

  • Medium-cost roads

  • High-cost roads

Rigidity

Some roads require more maintenance than others. The frequency of road maintenance depends on the materials used in its construction. The two major types of roads based on rigidity are the following.

  • Flexible roads

  • Rigid roads

A flexible pavement surface disintegrates over time without proper maintenance. On the contrary, rigid road pavements made of concrete material don’t require extensive maintenance to remain in good condition.

Classification of roads and highways as per Indian Road Congress (IRC)

The Indian Road Congress or IRC is the prime body that looks over the road development in the country. Established by the government in 1934, this apex body consists of qualified highway engineers.

The IRC offers the following classification of roads in India.

  • National highways

  • State highways

  • District roads

  • Rural roads

National highways in India

National highways are the roads that stretch between the cities in the country. These are the main roads that connect the capitals of most states with each other. Some national highways even connect India with other neighbouring countries and make many famous tourist destinations easily accessible.

A highway is typically a large-width, well-designed road with traffic signs, lights, bridges, etc., at appropriate locations. These roads are indicated by “NH” with a hyphen and a numeral code like “NH-1”, “NH-10”, etc. The following are the types of national highways in India.

  • Single-lane highway

  • Double-lane highway

  • Four-lane highway

  • Six-lane highway

  • Eight-lane highway

The following authorities take care of the development, management and maintenance of national highways in India.

  • National Highways Authority of India or NHAI

  • National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited or NHIDCL

State highways in India

State highways include roads that connect all major cities in a state. At the same time, they offer connectivity with neighbouring state highways and national highways. These highways are indicated by “SH” along with a designated state code.

Some of the largest shares of state highways are in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Tamil Nadu. The development and maintenance of these highways fall on the authorities of their respective states. 

District roads in India

District roads or urban roads in India connect different parts of a city. Hence, locals use these roads to travel to offices, markets, educational institutions, hospitals, etc. These roads also allow connectivity with neighbouring state/national highways.

Based on the location and function, district roads are divided into major and minor roads. Major roads in a district offer connectivity with the main locations of neighbouring districts. On the other hand, minor roads in a district connect all major areas inside that district. 

Other district roads in India

Some of the roads connect major parts of a rural area to a district. These roads are highly important to enable the transportation of goods and raw materials required for people living in rural towns. Similarly, it allows farmers from rural towns to transport their produce to the markets situated in neighbouring districts. 

Village/rural roads in India

The rural roads in India are found in the villages and rural towns. These are not as sophisticated as national or state highways but offer connectivity for the villagers to commute to markets, farms, fields, offices, residences, etc.

Also, read: Driving your car on the highway? Top rules and tips to follow

Importance of roads in India

Roads are crucial for the economic development of a country. It offers better opportunities and improved living standards for citizens. Below are some of the reasons why a well-maintained road network is critically important in India.

1. Goods and food transportation

Roadways are fundamental to the import and export of items that help to build and maintain the economy. National highways enable the transportation of goods and food items across the nation. Similarly, you have state and district highways that allow those items to reach deeper parts of cities. 

2. Easy to travel

Well managed and maintained roads make travelling convenient and safe for people. It offers connectivity between cities, making public and private transport options available to take people closest to their destinations. People can comfortably travel to nearby cities for business, vacation or any other purposes.

3. Connecting the most remote areas

Road connectivity makes a huge difference in remote locations where consistent delivery of supplies is required by the locals. This includes towns and villages in the mountain regions of India.

Roads are the easiest mode of transport in mountain regions than railways, waterways or airways. In fact, some of the remote locations can’t have any other mode of transportation than roadways. Thus, the lives of people living in secluded areas depend on these roads.

4. Doorstep services

Unlike airways or railways, roads enable door-to-door services. Products can reach from their source to their destination via road transportation. The source and destination may change based on the purpose such as factory-to-warehouse, warehouse-to-stores, stores-to-residences, etc.

The journey from source to destination can include other ways of transport too. However, the road network is always required for doorstep services. Thus, it makes roadways a feeder for railways and airways. 

5. Flexibility of service

You can adjust the time and route of using roads as per your requirements. This is a unique advantage of roadways over other transport options where you have to follow fixed routes and schedules. 

6. Lesser costs

Roads require lesser capital investment during construction than other modes of transportation. Also, they are cost-effective to operate and maintain when compared to airways and railways. 

Importance of road safety

To safely drive on national/state highways and city roads, every user must abide by the traffic rules and regulations. While many traffic rules apply on all types of roads, some of the rules differ based on whether you are driving on a national highway, state highway, or district road. Hence, you must thoroughly understand the road safety rules in India before beginning to drive.

Frequently asked questions

Below are the common questions answered based on different types of roads in India.

Which Indian state shares the largest highway network?

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With 22.14%, Maharashtra shares the largest state highway network as of March 2020.

Can bad roads affect the growth of a community?

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Bad road conditions can drastically impact the lifestyle of a community over time. If roads are not constructed or managed properly, it increases the duration of travel. Thus, people living in the community find it hard to access educational institutions, healthcare, workplaces, local markets, etc.

The lack of road infrastructure also impacts the availability and quality of opportunities and services for a community. It all results in lowering the standards of life over the years.

Does the speed limit of driving change based on the type of road?

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Yes, it does. The speed limits are usually different for national highways than state highways or district roads. Hence, you must keep an eye on the traffic signs that indicate the maximum speed limit while driving on roads.

Which lane should I drive on the highway in India?

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These days, national highways in India typically have 2 or 3 lanes on each side. When driving on a 4-lane highway (2 lanes on both sides), you should drive on the leftmost lane and use the right lane for overtaking.

For a 6-lane highway (3 lanes on both sides), the lanes are classified into slow, medium and fast from left to right. The slow lane is suitable for trucks and two-wheelers, while the medium lane is best-suited to drive cars. The fast lane is usually used for overtaking a vehicle.

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