arterial system

Brazilian Highway System

The Brazilian Highway System is the highway system of Brazil, the fourth largest such system in the world. As of 2004, the system consists of almost 2 million km of roads, of which approximately 200,000 km are paved. The name given to highway in Brazil is rodovia (expressway connecting two or more cities, or a far and important location, passing to an area outside any urban area, is the specification of rodovia, in Brazil).

Rodovias can be both paved or unpaved (but almost every major Brazilian highway is paved), and can have separated lanes to each direction or not, and can have multiple lanes or only a single lane.

As it is in the United States, Canada or most countries in Europe, most major highways have higher speed limits than normal urban roads (typically between 80 km/h and 120 km/h), although minor highways, unpaved highways and sections of major highways running inside urban areas have a low speed limit in general.

Annually, it is estimated that more than 1.2 billion people travel in the Brazilian highways (against the 120 million travelling in airlines).


Brazilian Regional highways are named YY-XXX, where YY is the abbreviation of the state where the highway is running in and XXX is a number (e.g. SP-280; where SP means that the highway is under São Paulo state administration).

Brazilian National highways are named BR-XXX. National highways connect multiple states altogether, are of major importance to the national economy and/or connect Brazil to another country. The meaning of the numbers are:

  • 000-099 - it means that the highway runs radially from Brasília. It is an exception to the cases below.
  • 100-199 - it means that the highway runs in a south-north way
  • 200-299 - it means that the highway runs in a west-east way
  • 300-399 - it means that the highway runs in a diagonal way. Highways with odd numbers run northeast-southwest, while even numbers run northwest-southeast.
  • 400-499 - it means that the highway interconnects two major highways.

Often Brazilian highways receive names (famous people, etc), but continue to have a YY/BR-XXX name (example: Rodovia Castelo Branco is also SP-280.)

See highway system of São Paulo for numbering designation for São Paulo state roads, also used in some other states.

Growth, net density, importance and problems

In 1953, Adhemar de Barros, then governor of São Paulo, finished Via Anchieta, linking Santos to São Paulo, and Via Anhanguera, linking São Paulo to Campinas, two highways using the most modern standards of that time. It would be the major accomplishment on the area for years.

When Juscelino Kubitschek assumed the presidency, he created subsidies to bring multinationals like Volkswagen to Brazil and created thousand of miles of roads, linking distant regions of the country. Most of these roads follow poor standards, but they created links where there were none. The military presidents would mostly follow these same standards to expand the system. The exceptions would be the modern highways built by the São Paulo State Government.

In 1967, the first stretch of Rodovia Castelo Branco, an extremely modern six-lane highway linking the city of São Paulo to the western region of the São Paulo State, was finished, creating a standard for other highways in the same state. In the same year, the Via Dutra was modernized, allowing a fast and modern trip between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

The country would reach 200,000 km paved in 2000. Between 1995 and 2005 three majors highways (BR-101, linking Curitiba to Porto Alegre; Regis Bittencourt, linking São Paulo to Curitiba; and Fernão Dias, linking São Paulo to Belo Horizonte) were modernized. Until then, most of these highways were known for their high mortality rate.

The Southern and Southeast regions of Brazil are heavily connected by highways, most of them paved; the North region is the least connected with paved highways due to the presence of the Amazon rainforest. In this region, highways, when they are present, generally are unpaved. Manaus, for example, has no major paved highways connecting it to any other city but Boa Vista in the north.

Highways are the main means of transportation in Brazil, both in number of movement of passengers and movement of freight and goods.

The major problem of highways as the national arterial system is that it is expensive to transport freight: trains are much cheaper, generate less pollution and create no traffic problems as trucks do. As of 2003, Brazil had only 24,000 km of railways, used mainly for mineral resources transportation (mines to seaport), while trucks were responsible for almost every other means of freight transportation.

Another significant problem that Brazilian federal highways face is deterioration because of weather conditions and heavy usage. The government's investment in highway maintenance often falls short of the necessary amounts, resulting in the lack of maintenance of thousands of kilometers of federal highways, especially the minor ones. Potholes and wavy asphalt are common on several highways. Because of this difficulty, the government decided to grant parts of highways to private companies who will maintain the highway in exchange for the right to charge tolls. The problem with this partial solution is explained in the section below.


Due to the growth of the country, and the growth of vehicles crossing Brazil from North to South, the Government has started, some years ago, the duplication of main roads sections. The first one to be completed was the so called Via Dutra, the important road connecting São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro, which was finished on the 1960´s. Later, another roads were built to be dual carriageways or duplicated, like the Fernão Dias, connecting Belo Horizonte to São Paulo, the Bandeirantes, connecting São Paulo to the State´s countryside, the Litoral Sul, connecting Curitiba to Florianópolis, and few others.

Nowadays, the Government and the private section are planning to duplicate thousands of kilometers, with few hundreds already on their way. For example, the first section of the Northeastern Corridor, connecting the capital city of Natal to Palmares, southern of Pernambuco State, the road connecting Goiânia to Uberlândia city, this one on the west of Minas Gerais state, the road connecting Palhoça, on Florianópolis Metro Area, to Osório, a city 90 km west from Porto Alegre, already connected by a dual, modern, six lane carriageway road, and few others.

The projects are the link between Brasília and Belo Horizonte (800 km), Belo Horizonte and Juiz de Fora (close to the Minas Gerais-Rio de Janeiro State Border), with 200 km, the Rio-Bahia Road System, between Três Rios (app. 150 km from Rio de Janeiro City, already connected to the State Capital by a dual carriageway road) and Feira de Santana (app. 200 km from Salvador, also connected by a dual carriageway road), and the important connection between Palmares and Salvador.

It is important to say that the majority of these roads are going to be or already are tolled roads maintaned by the private section (like the link between Florianópolis and Belo Horizonte, or the link between Rio de Janeiro and Salvador, or even the link between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo), however, some roads, like the link between Salvador and Natal, which will be more than a 1000 km long of a full dual carriageway system, will not, by the next few years, be tolled, and will link, more likely by 2014, 70% of all the economy and the population of the Northeast Region.

Public vs. private administration

Brazilian highways are under constant observation (laws, rules, highway patrolling) of CONTRAN (Conselho Nacional de Trânsito - National Transit (Road Transportation) Council), the national government organization responsible for the rules and laws of the Brazilian road system (including all the ones inside urban areas), and DENATRAN (Departamento Nacional de Trânsito - National Road Transport Department), the national government organization responsible for enforcing these laws, but funding it is a government (from the state where the highways is/passes by) or private responsibility. All major Brazilian paved highways have toll stations.

In the 1990s, many state governments decided to privatize public-controlled paved highways, in order to generate extra income to the state's budget (for social care mainly). These governments argued that private funding would make problematic highways much better, because of the investments received. In fact, many private-controlled paved highways are in very good condition (with many of them having critical problems before), but other people argue that private-controlled paved highways charge more at the toll stations and that these highways have more toll stations than public-controlled paved highways (in order to compensate for the investment done).

Major Federal Brazilian Highways


Also called Rodovia Belém-Brasília, official name Rodovia Bernardo Sayão (the name of its chief engineer, who died in an accident during the construction of the highway, when a tree fell on him), is one of the longest highways in South America and runs in an almost perfect North-South direction, from the city of Belém and the Federal capital city of Brasília.


BR-040 runs radially from near of the national capital Brasilia (beginning 100 km south of the beginning of BR-050, in Brasilia), in a northwest-southeast way, to Rio de Janeiro city.

BR-040 is the modern way of the called "New Way", opened in the 18th century that linked Ouro Preto, the main center of gold mines of Minas Gerais to the Rio de Janeiro harbour.

In 1861 the road was paved from Petrópolis to Juiz de Fora, being the first road paved in Latin America until the 1920s. In 1928, Petrópolis was connected to Rio de Janeiro with a paved road.

In the 1930s the route of the road was changed to pass by the new capital of Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, although it was unpaved until 1957, when the road was extended to Brasília, the new capital of Brazil.

From 1951 to 1973 BR-040 was called BR-3 and was famous for its dangerous bends, such as the Almas Bridge, near Belo Horizonte, which is used until today. In the 1970s the part from Rio de Janeiro to Juiz de Fora was modernized and become a two-laned road.

Cities where the BR-040 runs or passes by: Lusilândia, Belo Horizonte, Juiz de Fora, Rio de Janeiro.


BR-050 runs radially from the national capital, Brasilia, in a north-south way, to Santos city, passing in São Paulo.

Cities where the BR-050 runs or passes by: Brasília, Uberlândia and Uberaba. At the border of the state of São Paulo, it merges with Rodovia Anhanguera (SP-330) and passes by Ribeirao Preto, Limeira, Campinas and São Paulo, then it merges with Rodovia Anchieta (SP-150) and passes by São Bernardo do Campo and Santos.


BR-101 runs in a north-south way, along Brazil's coast. It is Brazil's second major highway, and the longest in the country (nearly 4600 km long). It connects more states capitals than any other "rodovia" in the country, in the total, 12 capitals are directly connected by BR-101.

The Rio-Niterói Bridge is part of the BR-101.

Cities where the BR-101 runs or passes by: Natal, João Pessoa, Olinda, Recife, Maceió, Aracaju, [[Feira de Santana], Itabuna, Ilhéus, Porto Seguro, Linhares, Vitória, Guarapari, Niterói, Rio de Janeiro, Barra Mansa, Santos, Curitiba, Joinville, Florianópolis, Criciúma, Osório, Porto Alegre.


BR-116 runs in a north-south way, near, but not in Brazil's coastline. It is the major Brazilian highway, and it is the second longest of the country. Numerous parts of the long path taken by the BR-116 have other official names.

The highway is especially busy along the Joinville-Curitiba-São Paulo-Rio de Janeiro section. The Curitiba-São Paulo section of the highway is known as Rodovia Régis Bittencourt, nicknamed "Rodovia da Morte" (Highway of death), due to its many accidents caused by the unstable weather conditions of the region. The São Paulo-Rio de Janeiro section is named Rodovia Presidente Dutra, and it is the busiest section of the highway, running into or near of 15 cities with more than 200.000 habitants.

Cities where the BR-116 runs or passes by: Fortaleza, Salgueiro, Feira de Santana, Vitória da Conquista, Teófolio Otoni, Governador Valadares, Rio de Janeiro, Volta Redonda, São José dos Campos, São Paulo, Curitiba, Lages, Canoas, Porto Alegre


BR-174 is the only paved highway connecting Manaus to another Brazilian state capital. It starts in Manaus, passes into Jundia, Novo Paraiso, Caracai, Mucajai, Boa Vista, Roraima and Paracaima, in the extreme north of the country, connecting Brazil with the neighbouring country of Venezuela.

BR-230 (Rodovia Transamazônica)

BR-230 or Rodovia Transamazônica is Brazil's third longest highway, running in an east-west direction. It was planned and built in the late 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s, to connect the isolated state of Amazonas and region with the rest of the country.

It was planned to be more or less 8.000 km long, mostly paved and connecting the North and Northeast Brazilian regions and Ecuador and Peru, but nowadays it is 2.500 km long and mostly unpaved (dirt). BR-230 was inaugurated in August 30, 1972, and since then did not suffer any major alterations.

Other problems were the beginning of deforestation and the creation of numerous small villages along the highway, and traffic is impracticable during the rainy season of the year (October - March). Still, the highway is very important, by connecting the region with the rest of the country. A major plan to pave most of the highway is under consideration by the Brazilian government, as of 2004.

Cities where the highway run or passes by: Aguiarnópolis, Maraba, Altamira, Itaituba, Humaita, Lábrea.


BR-277 is a highway that runs east-west, starting from the Friendship Bridge (which connects Brazil with Paraguay) and goes up to Paranaguá. It is of major importance to Paraguay, since major importations are made using the Paranaguá seaport.

Major cities connected by the BR-277: Foz do Iguaçu, Medianeira, Cascavel, Guarapuava, Ponta Grossa, Curitiba, Paranaguá. BR-277 is approximately 650 km long.


One of the two major highways connecting the isolated capital city of Manaus, it is mostly unpaved, and though, traffic is impracticable in the rainy seasons of the year. Even though, it connects the city to the South (and more habited) regions of the country, making BR-319 a major highway of national integration.

As of December 2005, this highway is under reconstruction within a 420 kilometer stretch between Caiero and Humaita. The complete re-paving work is expected to be finished by 2007, reestablishing the land connection between Manaus and the rest ou the country.

Major cities connected by the BR-319: Manaus, Caiero, Humaita, Porto Velho.


BR-381 or Rodovia Fernão Dias, as it is called, is a highway which runs in the Brazilian states of São Paulo and southern region of Minas Gerais.

Major cities connected by the BR-381: São Paulo, Mairiporã, Atibaia, Pouso Alegre, Varginha, Oliveira and Belo Horizonte.

Major State Highways

State of São Paulo


  • Manaus, Amazonas' capital (with a population of more than 1.6 million habitants), is one of the most isolated metropolitan regions of the world, accessible only by two major highways (only one paved) or by the Amazon River and the Rio Negro. It is located in the very heart of the Amazon Rainforest.

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