Introduction to Roads in Finland

Geographical Background

To compare to the UK: The area of Finland is 1.4 times the area of the UK, and the population is less than one tenth of the population of the UK.  Thus, the average population density in the UK is 16 times the density in Finland. The northernmost province, Lapland, is very sparsely populated: The area is about 40% of the UK but the population is less than 200,000.

There are no mountainous areas in Finland, so no mountain roads either. The inland landscape is scattered by tens of thousands of lakes, and there are lot of inhabited islands on the coast of the Baltic Sea. The number of road bridges is high and there are more than 40 ferry connections.

The winter conditions cause challenges on the roads: The roads must be created very solid to survive the hard conditions, and keeping them open during the winter is a major effort. Both these challenges cause significant costs. This is a one reason behind a high fraction of the lower class road network being unpaved gravel roads.

Road Classification

The total length of the state-owned network is about 78,000 kilometres. The classification is five-layered:

Type
Numbering
Signpost
Length in 2010, km
Primary Roads (Main Roads Class I)
1-29
8,568
Secondary Roads (Main Roads Class II) 40-98
4,760
Regional Roads
3 digits
13,537
Connecting Roads
4 digits
51,295
Secondary Connecting Roads
5 digits
Not signposted

In addition, the cities and the municipalities own 26,000 kilometres of streets and local roads. They do not belong to any common numbering scheme.

There are about 350,000 kilometres of private roads. A large part of the private network is supported financially by the cities and the municipalities. Those roads receiving the support are open to the public.

There are several European Roads in Finland. The European Roads are not part of the classification but they carry the national number, too. For instance, the national road 4 is indicated as the road E75, too.



Typical arrangement: Road number(s) with speed limit and priority signs



Newer distance signs usually display the road number



Road number signs having a dashed edge indicate a route leading to that road.

Road types

There are about 760 kilometres of motorways. With some minor exceptions, they are dual carriageways with 2+2 lanes. There are six motorways originating radially from Helsinki having the total length of 585 kilometres. The other motorways are rather short sections close to the biggest cities. The motorway section of the road 29 is said to be the northermost motorway in the world.

Most of the other roads are single carriageways with 1+1 lanes. The most notable exceptions to this are the ring roads around Helsinki and Turku. The busiest sections of those are dual carriageway with 2+2 or 3+3 lane setup.

In hilly areas, some primary and secondary roads are equipped with uphill fast lanes to help overtaking slow vehicles. A few of these 2+1 roads are equipped with a barrier or a fence separating the traffic directions.



Road 3 as a motorway in Nurmijärvi



Road 20 in Pudasjärvi



Road 101, Ring I in Helsinki. Busiest road in Finland



Roads having less traffic may be narrow. Road 92 descends to the Finnish-Norwegian border in Karigasniemi. Green boxes contain sand.



A gravel road in a good shape



2+1 road. Road 5, Pertunmaa [Google Maps]



2+1 road with separating fence. Road 54, Loppi [Google Maps]



2+2 road with separating fence and grade separated junctions. Road 2, Nummela

Motorway Numbering

There is no separate numbering scheme for the motorways. They carry the national road number.

The motorway exit numbering was introduced in 2001. The numbering does not yet cover all the motorways.



Signs leading to road 45 as a motorway. Exit 44 on road 50/E18, Vantaa

Traffic signs

The traffic signs follow the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals. The background of the danger warning signs, the prohibitive or restrictive signs, and the mandatory signs is yellow. The danger warning signs are triangular.



The colour of the direction signs vary:

•    The default background is blue.
•    Green for motorways and roads for motor vehicles
•    White for local destinations
•    Yellow for temporary roads and diversions
•    Brown for tourist destinations
•    Black for private roads

Patching is used in the advance direction signs. The patches are often nested: white on blue on green, for instance.

There are three types of advance direction signs. The Type A sign is usually used at major intersections while the Type B is mainly for minor intersections and for urban use. The Type C signs are not very common.

On the motorways, the advance directions signs are slightly different from the normal ones.



Type A advance direction sign. Road 66, Virrat



Type A advance direction sign at roundabouts. Roads 27/63/86, Ylivieska [Google Maps]



Type B advance direction sign



Type C advance direction sign [Google Maps]



Type A advance direction sign, motorway version. Blue patch on green and white patch on blue. Note the white border around the blue patch. Road 1, Lohja



Type B advance direction sign, motorway version. Road 1, Lohja



Normal direction sign



Overhead direction signs. Intersection roads 102 and 110, Espoo [Google Maps]



Overhead direction signs at roundabouts. Road 4/9/13/23, Vaajakoski [Google Maps]



Direction sign at slip road exits. Road 51, Espoo. [Google Maps]



Overhead direction sign at slip road exit. Road 9/E63/60, Tampere



Remote controlled signs. The road to the port of Helsinki in Vuosaari is closed and the yellow sign show the diversion route. Road 50.

Language

Most of  Finland is monolingual. However, there are areas where Swedish is widely spoken. These areas lie on the southern and western coasts, and in the southwester archipelago. If certain criteria are met, the municipality is officially bilingual. There are even a few monolingual Swedish areas.

The language in the traffic signs text follows the language distribution of the municipality the signs is located in: Finnish in the most of Finland, Swedish in the monolingual Swedish areas and both languages in bilingual areas, the language of the majority appearing first. The arrangement may be confusing on certain roads, because of the order of the names changing.

On the primary and secondary roads, as well as on motorways, slightly different rules apply: In monolingual areas there are bilingual direction signs if the majority in the target location speaks the opposite language. Simple is that.



Road 8, Vaasa-Pori. Sign located in Vaasa being bilingual (Finnish majority) [Google Maps]



Road 8, Vaasa-Pori. Sign located in Kristiinankaupunki being bilingual (Swedish majority) [Google Maps]



Road 8, Vaasa-Pori. Sign located in Merikarvia being monolingual Finnish [Google Maps]



Road 673 leading to road 8, Vaasa-Pori. Sign located in Närpiö being monolingual Swedish [Google Maps]

In the northernmost Lapland, the Sami language is widely spoken. The direction signs are in Finnish and in Sami, the Finnish name appearing first.



Sings at the intersection of roads 4 and 971 in Kaamanen. The setup is trilingual: The Kirkkoniemi/Kirkenes sign is in Finnish/Norwegian while the other ones are Finnish/Sami. There are several local Sami dialects spoken, and the written form varies. For instance, both Avveel and Avvil are the Sami names for Ivalo.

Toll Roads

There are no tolls on the public network.

Speed limits

The default speed limit in the signposted built-up areas is 50 km/h and 80 km/h elsewhere. The limits 60 km/h and 100 km/h often apply, and 120 km/h on rural motorways. In the built-up areas, lower limits 30 km/h and 40 km/h are often in effect.



Built-up Area



End of Built-up Area

Ferries

The primary and secondary roads are free of ferries. On the lower network, there are number of ferries at water crossings where it would be uneconomical to build a bridge. Ferries exist both on lakes and on the coast.

The ferries being part of the state-owned roads are free of charge. Some of those operate under a timetable while the remaining ones operate as needed or on request. Most of the ferries operate all night long.

The vehicles are carried on a first come first served basis, with a few exceptions. Regular buses and emergency vehicles have a priority. On a few routes, the local people have a priority, too.



Cable ferry to the island of Pellinki in the southern archipelago on road 1552



Ferry Merisilta crossing the ice-covered sea. She can sail through 80 centimetres thick ice. Road 816 to island of Hailuoto.

Åland Islands

Åland Islands are an autonomous area having some special rules. The islands have their own road numbering system overlapping with the numbers on the mainland. Most of the ferries are chargeable.

Winter

The winter conditions last a few months in the south and about half a year in the north. All public roads are kept open all year long. The busy roads are kept free from ice using salt. Other roads usually are icy or there is snow on the road. Winter tyres are mandatory in December, January and February.



Rather a typical winter scene in southern Finland. The main lanes are open but the overtaking lane and shoulders are icy.



Winter conditions on primary roads in northern Finland. Road 21, Aavasaksa.



Winter conditions on secondary roads in northern Finland. Road 80, Kolari.



A snowfall often causes delays and increases the accident risk, but it rarely blocks the roads. Road camera on road 3, Jalasjärvi. [Finnish Transport Agency]

The lower speed limits apply from late October to early April: Most of the 100 km/h sections are lowered to 80 km/h and all 120 km/h sections on motorways to 100 km/h.

Most ferries operate year round. Some of those are powerful ice breakers. A few ferry connections are closed down at winter because there is an alternative route available.

Whenever the ice conditions permit, a few public ice roads will be opened. The public ice roads are monitored constantly and they are safe to use. The longest ice roads are the Oulu-Hailuoto connection on the road 816 (about 10 kilometres) and the road across the Lake Pielinen (Lieksa-Koli, about 7 km).



Ice road over the sea between Oulu and Hailuoto

Animals

Elks, deer and reindeer cause some harm on the roads. Elks are dangerous because of their size. Typically, 1500 elk collisions happen every year, killing five persons in average. Two thirds of the accidents happen in dusk or darkness. Hundreds of kilometres of road are protected by fences blocking the elks' access to the road.

Reindeer exist in the north. Collision with them usually does not kill people, but causes other harm. Reindeer often move in herds, possibly blocking the road for a while.



Reindeer on road 5 in Kuusamo

History

The current road numbering scheme for primary and secondary routes was introduced in 1938. The roads 1 to 7 originated radially clockwise from Helsinki, the roads 8 to 10 from Turku, the roads 11 and 13 from Tampere, and the roads 13 to 15 from Viipuri. The highest primary road was 21. The secondary roads, numbered from 51 to 82, did not follow similar systematic setup. Instead, the numbers grew from south to north. Later, the range of primary road numbers has been extended up to 29, and the number of secondary roads span from 40 to 98.

The network defined in 1938 basically remains mostly unchanged. The southeastern part of the country was lost to Soviet Union at World War II. The numbers of the lost roads were later assigned to the other roads upgraded to main roads. As new roads have been built, the number range of both primary and secondary routes has beed extended.

Until the end on 1940's, most of the Finnish roads were slow, windy and narrow rural gravel roads. Most of the main road network was completely rebuilt between 1950's and 1980's with a huge effort. The first motorway section on the road 1 opened in 1962.

Random Statistics



Roads in Finland (in Finnish)
Matti Grönroos

© Matti Grönroos