The N.C. Department of Transportation's roots lie in the State Highway Commission, formed 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.

Since then, the department has evolved into a multi-modal agency providing a wide range of projects and services to meet North Carolina’s transportation needs.

The secretary of transportation, a member of the governor's cabinet, leads the department, and a 19-member board serves as the department's governing body and assists in making decisions and approving allocation of funds.