The N.C. Department of Transportation dates back to the establishment of the State Highway Commission in 1915. In 1941, the N.C. General Assembly created the Department of Motor Vehicles, consolidating services previously provided by the Secretary of State and the Department of Revenue.

The Executive Organization Act of 1971 then combined the State Highway Commission and the Department of Motor Vehicles to form the N.C. Department of Transportation and Highway Safety. In 1979, "Highway Safety" was dropped from the department's name when the Highway Patrol Division was transferred to the newly created Department of Crime Control and Public Safety.

Today, NCDOT employs more than 11,000 people who oversee all modes of transportation in North Carolina, including highways, rail, aviation, ferries, public transit, and bicycle and pedestrian transportation. The department also oversees the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles, the N.C.Turnpike Authority, N.C. Ports and the N.C. Global TransPark.

NCDOT’s operations are led by the Secretary of Transportation, a member of the governor’s cabinet. A 19-member Board of Transportation is the department’s governing body and is responsible for assisting in the transportation decision-making process and approving fund allocation. Board members are appointed by the governor.