North Carolina - Roads & Highways

The early roads in North Carolina typically followed an existing Indian Trail, which began as a wild animal trail carved by deer and bison over many years. None of the early laws of North Carolina - from 1663 to 1715 - survive to this day. The first legislative Act known- An Act Concerning Roads & Ferries - was passed in 1715. From the earliest settlements to well after the U.S. Civil War, each county was required to maintain their own roads and ferries. Public roads were to be laid out by a jury of twelve men appointed by each precinct / county court. This court also appointed a "Surveyor of Roads" who was to summon all appropriate males twice a year to clear all roads and to repair any public bridges. This appointee could also summons the same men in cases of emergency.

Indian Trails

 1715 Act Concerning Roads & Ferries
The first major road within North Carolina was built between the Neuse River and the Cape Fear River from 1722 to 1724. The Neuse-Cape Fear Road was incorporated into the Kings Highway that stretched from Boston to Charles Town and was completed in 1735. As the population grew and moved further inland, other major roads were constructed, as shown in the link below on Colonial Roads.

Colonial Roads

Roads as of 1775 - Version 1

Roads as of 1775 - Version 2
With statehood and the inevitable progress in transportation, fresh ideas were needed to get products from the farms to the markets. In 1799, the Legislature authorized the first Turnpike Road, a toll road in Buncombe County to the NC/TN state line. These privately owned roads continued for more than a hundred years, and provided much better transportation than the typical county road. In 1849, North Carolina began its experiment with Plank Roads that lasted until the railroads proved a better alternative.

Turnpike Roads

Plank Roads

The coming of the automobile brought about the greatest "infrastructure project" ever implemented in the United States. Governor Charles B. Aycock established the first State Highway Commission in 1901 and it included the state geologist, the commissioner of agriculture, and a secretary. With no budget, this group filed only one report in 1902.

In 1915, the Legislature created the State Highway Commission once again, this time a seven-member panel that included the governor, the state geologist, two road engineers, and three citizens appointed by the governor. This larger group was directed to meet the requirements for securing federal funds for highway construction. A third incarnation in 1919 enabled this commission to direct the state's invovement in road building. Fueled by a large $50 million bond issued in 1921, this commission began the construction and maintenance of more than 6,000 miles of roads in North Carolina.

This $50 million bond was raised by requiring a license fee and a one cent tax on gasoline. Its purpose was to connect all county seats with high quality paved roads. Many dangerous railroad crossings were eliminated, many curves were straighteneed, and most steep gradients were reduced to an optimal four percent. With the 1921 Highway Act, the state government became officially responsible for the maintenance of all state roads. In 1931, the Great Depression caused the State to take over maintenance of practically all roads within the state.

Also in 1915, the federal Bureau of Public Roads was created, which gave funds to each state for building, improving, and maintaining key "through roads." National uniform standards were established with uniform route numbers and signage.

In 1941, the North Carolina State Legislature created the Department of Motor Vehicles, consolidating services previously provided by Secretary of State and the Department of Revenue.


Available Road Maps of NC

NC State Highways

U.S. Highways in NC

Interstate Highways in NC

In 1956, the U.S. Congress authorized the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. Each state was to receive 90% federal aid, but the federal government decided which routes to build and when. For North Carolina, over 750 miles and five (5) systems were originally created: I-26 from Asheville to the NC/SC State Line (40 miles); I-40 from Greensboro to Canton (219 miles); I-77 from Charlotte to the NC/VA State Line (96 miles); I-85 from the NC/VA State Line to the NC/SC State Line (233 miles); and, I-95 from Weldon to Lumberton (182 miles).

In 1971, the State Highway Commission was combined with the Department of Motor Vehicles and re-organized as the North Carolina Department of Transportation and Highway Safety. In 1979, the "Highway Safety" was dropped from its name.

North Carolina now includes more than 78,000 miles of paved highways, one of the largest systems in America.

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