Asides the Wright Brothers, the Outer Banks are famous for its lighthouses. This is Bodie Island Lighthouse, located within the Cape Hatteras National Seashore near Oregon Inlet. Four other light houses are found along the coast: Corolla Light, Hatteras Light, Ocracoke Light, and Cape Fear Light. Photo taken 12/16/01.

The Outer Banks of North Carolina consist of the extreme coastal areas that separate the mainland from the Atlantic Ocean. Since they play an integral part of the local economy and are related geographically due to the approximately via Albemarle and Currituck Sounds, Elizabeth City/Pasquotank County, Manteo/Roanoke Island, and Currituck County will be included in the scope of this project. The main industry here is tourism, as Northeasterners and Midwesterners flock to the cool beaches during the warmer months of the year. Although the banks extend from Carava to the north and Cape Hatteras and Ocracoke Island to the South, our coverage focuses on the stretch between Corolla and Oregon Inlet.

U.S. and State Routes


U.S. Highway 17

The largest city in Northeastern North Carolina, Elizabeth City resides on the Pasquotank River in Pasquotank County north of Albemarle Sound. U.S. 17 provides the main highway to the city. The route splits in three segments: U.S. 17 Bypass, a 2002-opened freeway to the west, the U.S. 17 mainline, the original U.S. 17 Bypass through Elizabeth City, and U.S. 17 Business, the original alignment through downtown.

A new limited access Elizabeth City bypass opened in December 20022 outside of the city limits. When completed, the U.S. 17 Bypass designation shifted to the new freeway and the original U.S. 17 Bypass became the mainline U.S. 17.2 The 11-mile freeway provides a high-speed bypass for through travelers between Hampton Roads, Virginia and Williamston. The need for a new route around Elizabeth City arose when development inundated the original Bypass U.S. 17.


U.S. Highway 64

Providing the gateway to the Outer Banx from Raleigh and Rocky Mount to the west, U.S. 64 straddles wetland areas from Plymouth east to Manns Harbor. The roadway constitutes two lanes overall between Columbia and and the east end of U.S. 264 and four lanes from there to Whalebone Junction. U.S. 264 used to follow U.S. 64 from Manns Harbor eastward but saw truncation that coincided with the August 20022 opening of the new Roanoke Sound bridge by October of that year.2

U.S. 64 travels a four-lane freeway from Knightdale east to Williamston and another four lane freeway from Pineridge to Columbia. Further improvements to expand the remaining two-lane sections east to Manns Harbor are possible.

East / West

U.S. 158 - Croatan Highway

The only highway connecting the Outer Banks to mainland North Carolina from the north is U.S. 158. The roadway carries five lanes with a varying speed limit of 45-55 mph. West of Barco and the Southern terminus of North Carolina 168, U.S. 158 reduces to two lanes en route to Elizabeth City. In Elizabeth City, U.S. 158 begins an 11 mile overlap with U.S. 17 northward to Morgans Corners. Originally U.S. 158 cut through the heart of downtown along Main Street, crossing a wooden plank bridge over the Pasquotank River en route to Camden. Remnants of the former alignment are visible to the south of the modern five-lane drawbridge.

Interesting tidbits on U.S. 158: At Coinjock, the Intracoastal waterway crosses Currituck County. Originally, U.S. 158 crossed a two lane drawbridge. This has been replaced with a high arched four lane span (with 55 mph speed limits) just to the West. Abutments from the old drawbridge remain in Coinjock itself.

Near Nags Head is Jockeys Ridge State Park. This area of the Outer Banks is home to large sand dunes that reshape themselves every year with the changing winds. Hang gliding, hiking, and sightseeing is offered to visitors at this unique park. The dunes front U.S. 158 (Croatan Highway) near milepost 12.

Until 1988, U.S. 158 partitioned between Business and Bypass designations along the Outer Banks. Current North Carolina 12 (Virginia Dare Trail), the original U.S. 158, was designated Business U.S. 158 upon completion of the five lane alignment (Croatan Highway) to the west. This five lane alignment opened as Bypass U.S. 158, because of the nature of the highway at the time. Locals refer to old Business U.S. 158 (North Carolina 12) as "The Beach Road," while current U.S. 158 is still dubbed "The Bypass." Mileposts are in place along U.S. 158 from the Wright Brothers Memorial Bridge through to the Eastern Terminus at Whalebone Junction to aid in locating businesses, attractions, and residential areas along the Croatan Highway. The mileposts increase as one drives south and east.

Additionally U.S. 158 becomes Truck U.S. 158 from Business U.S. 17 Westward in Elizabeth City. The Truck designation continues along the overlap with U.S. 17 (Hughes Boulevard) northward where it ends at the merge with U.S. 17 Business (Road Street). All reassurance shields along this stretch for U.S. 158 coincide with Truck banners.

North / South

N.C. 12 - Virginia Dare Trail

Known as the Virginia Dare Trail between Southern Shores and Whalebone Junction, North Carolina 12 straddles the coastline along a two-lane alignment with a 35 mph speed limit. The highway is home to condominiums, hotels, beach homes, restaurants, and other commercial establishments. The roadway fronts the beach itself in Kitty Hawk.

North of Southern Shores, North Carolina 12 serves the towns of Corolla and Duck. Hundreds of beach homes and condominiums continue the frontage of the Ocean Trail on the 20 mile trek between U.S. 158 and Corolla. At Corolla Light, the Currituck Beach Lighthouse overlooks the Atlantic Ocean and Currituck Sound. Just north of the lighthouse the designation terminates, leaving a North Carolina Secondary Road with a half mile jaunt to the end of pavement within Corolla. North of this location, a beach road (Sandfiddler Road) begins and travels to the village of Carava. This roadway is limited to only four-wheel drive vehicles.

South of Whalebone Junction, North Carolina 12 enters Cape Hatteras National Seashore via Oregon Inlet Road. The two lane highway carries a 55 mph speed limit between U.S. 64 & 158 and the Oregon Inlet Bridge at the U.S. Coast Guard Station. Crossing the Oregon Inlet itself is the Herbert C. Bonner bridge. Opened in 1964, the span may be replaced with one of two new alignments in the future. Due to the rising costs of controlling beach erosion and damage caused by nor' easters and hurricanes, officials are undertaking a $9.5 million five to seven year study on how to address this issue. At hand are the possibilities of creating a 17 mile bridge that will bypass three problem areas for beach erosion on the northern end of the Hatteras National Seashore area, including the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. This $260 million alternate contrasts with a more modest 6-mile bridge contemplated by the the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.1

The 2003 landfall of Hurricane Isabel added to need to address the erosion issues along North Carolina 12. The category two storm ripped two new inlets within the Hatteras Island National Seashore itself, cutting off Buxton, Hatteras, Rodanthe, Waves, and Salvo from the mainland. Heated debate grew after the storms departure on whether or not to build new bridges over the new waterways or to backfill them and return North Carolina 12 to its original form. After several months of debate, the U.S. Army Core of Engineers agreed to fill in the inlets and reconstruct North Carolina 12 as it was.

The landfall of Hurricane Irene on August 27, 2011 resulted in the closure of North Carolina 12 between Pamlico Sound and the Atlantic Ocean. Storm surge formed several new inlets between the two areas of water, washing the two lane roadway out. One inlet formed was 100 feet wide and 8 feet deep. 2,500 residents of Hatteras Island were cut off from the mainland due to the N.C. 12 damage.5

A 1950 road atlas displays a proposed toll road along the North Carolina 12 alignment between the Southern Shores of the Outer Banks to Virginia Beach, Virginia. This alignment was dropped by the 1954 atlas. Since then several proposals have emerged to build a new North Carolina 12 bridge across Currituck Sound to link the state highway from Corolla to the mainland via U.S. 158. Opponents contend that this road will only benefit tourists from Virginia and will further spur development along the narrow strip of land that North Carolina 12 traverses.

Mid-Currituck Bridge

One of nine projects developed by the North Carolina Turnpike Authority is a new tolled span across Currituck Sound linking U.S. 158 with North Carolina 12. Estimated to cost $440-million, the Mid-Currituck Bridge will travel approximately seven miles from a point north of Aydlett to an area at or south of Corolla. The Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) was completed in January 2012. Although initial thoughts on construction touted a 2013 possible completion date, the Record of Decision process continues through the spring of 2018. Proposed tolls forecast in 2009 varied between $8 each way during the tourist season and $6 each way during off-season.4 The estimated toll rate was not determined as of 2017.

North Carolina 34

North Carolina 34 constitutes a north-south highway between Belcross (U.S. 158) and Sligo (North Carolina 168). Truncated in 2006, North Carolina 34 used to travel with U.S. 158 west into Elizabeth City and southeast to the U.S.C.G. Air Station Elizabeth City and Glen Cove on the Pasquotank River. Within Elizabeth City itself, North Carolina 34 followed Weeksville Road north to Elizabeth City State University, turning onto Herrington Road and Road Street to U.S. 17 Business (Eringhaus Street). Eringhaus Street carried North Carolina 34 east to Water Street north and its 5.4-mile merge with U.S. 158 (Elizabeth Street).

North Carolina 34 did not always follow the alignment from Sligo to Elizabeth City to Glen Cove. Originally North Carolina 34 followed current North Carolina 168 from Sligo southward to U.S. 158 at Barco. North Carolina 168 originally followed North Carolina 34 through Elizabeth City to Weeksville. The two switched places in the 1960s. Predating those designations, the North Carolina 34 and original N.C. 168 alignments were designated North Carolina 170.

North Carolina 136

North Carolina 136 constitutes a short state route spurring east from U.S. 158 at Bertha to Poplar Branch in Currituck County. A two lane route amid a hodgepodge of homes and forest, North Carolina 136 ends at a boat launch ramp on Currituck Sound.

As a tribute to the North Carolina native and NASCAR racing legend Dale Earnhardt, the state agreed to allow the city of Kannapolis (Dale's hometown) to renumber North Carolina 136 to North Carolina 3 in honor of Earnhardt. The change was made by October 23, 2002, a year and a half after Earnhardt's death at the 2001 Daytona 500.3 Signs were changed by March 2003.

North Carolina 168

A five lane highway linking Chesapeake, Virginia with Currituck County, North Carolina, North Carolina 168 provides the main route to the Outer Banks from Virginia and the northeastern United States. Despite the high volume of traffic during the tourist season, the road remains rural in character outside of the Moyock community near the Virginia state line. Widening of the highway from two to five lanes occurred in the early 1990s to accommodate growth in the resort areas to the southeast.

The original North Carolina 168 followed North Carolina 34 from Sligo southward to Glen Cove south of Elizabeth City. Even earlier in road history, North Carolina 168 carried North Carolina 170 shields. That designation related to the Virginia 170 highway in Chesapeake. The two 170's connected Wade Point with the Norfolk Navy Base. North Carolina 168 overtook the route when Virginia 168 saw extension in Norfolk.

North Carolina 343

A vastly rural highway linking U.S. 17 and the community of South Mills to U.S. 158 at Camden. The highway provides a bypass for Outer Banks bound traffic from U.S. 17 and Suffolk, Virginia. The highway continues 6.7 miles south of U.S. 158 to the villages of Shiloh and nearby Taylors Beach.

North Carolina 344

North Carolina 344 was designated in 2006 along the Halstead Boulevard extension from its beginning at U.S. 17 Bypass west of Elizabeth City to the former south end of North Carolina 34 at Glen Cove on the Pasquotank River. The designation replaced North Carolina 34 wholly from Herrington Road southeast in Elizabeth City.

North Carolina 345

North Carolina 345 comprises a short state route linking U.S. 64 in Manteo with Wanchese on Roanoke Island. North Carolina 345 follows a two lane highway with a 35 to 55 MPH speed limit. Before the extensions of U.S. 64 and 264 from the west, North Carolina 345 continued to the north end of the island to Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. A remnant of the former alignment is signed as Old NC 345 through the park area north of Business U.S. 64. Also before the extension of U.S. 64 east, U.S. 158 turned westward onto Roanoke Island from Whalebone Junction to allow the only connection between the island and the rest of the state. The east-west US highway's former eastern terminus occurred at North Carolina 345's current north end.


North Carolina 400

North Carolina 400 constitutes a short loop east from U.S. 64 Business to Roanoke Island Festival Park within the town of Manteo. The state highway follows Fernando Street east to Queen Elizabeth Avenue north at the Doughs Creek bridge onto Roanoke Island Festival Park. Ananias Dare Street returns North Carolina 400 west to U.S. 64 Business.

North Carolina 615

North Carolina 615 follows Marsh Causeway south from former Virginia State Secondary 615 (Princess Anne Road) in Virginia Beach to Knotts Island. Knotts Island and South End Roads continue the state highway south to Ferry Dock Road and the Currituck Sound Ferry. The ferry provides a free ride to motorists between Knotts Island and North Carolina 168 at Currituck. North Carolina 615 consists of a winding two lane roadway through Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge.

The area is famous from the Wright Brothers and their pioneering in flight and the first English child born in North America (Virginia Dare) among other things. However, what most people travel to the Outer Banks for is the beach and the natural beauty associated with the Albemarle Sound to the West and the Atlantic Ocean to the East.

U.S. 17 Business - Elizabeth City
Business U.S. 17 reassurance shield posted on north Road Street at downtown. U.S. 17B follows Ehringhaus and Road Streets along the original U.S. 17 alignment through the city. Photo taken 03/31/01.
North Carolina 34
Looking at what was the first northbound North Carolina 34 reassurance shield, posted some 300 feet from the Pasquotank River shoreline. This is now the northbound beginning of North Carolina 344. Photo taken 03/31/01.
North Carolina 344 (former North Carolina 34) leaves the city of Elizabeth City and the U.S. Coast Guard Station area and transitions into a rural two lane roadway. This scene looks at what was the final North Carolina 34 reassurance shield posted along Salem Church Road in Weeksville. Photo taken 03/31/01.
North Carolina 136
There was only one North Carolina 3 shield posted in each direction of the state highway between Bertha and Poplar Branch in 2001. This particular assembly lied along the state highway westbound after its beginning from Currituck Sound. Photo taken 12/17/01.
North Carolina 168
North Carolina 168 (Caratoke Highway) northbound at the southbound beginning of North Carolina 34 (Shawboro Road) in Sligo. North Carolina 168 constitute a five-lane highway northwest from Barco to Chesapeake, Virginia. North Carolina 34 leads three miles south to Shawboro. Photo taken 12/17/01.
Puddin Ridge Road intersects North Carolina 168 (Caratoke Highway) at one of the traffic lights within the community of Moyock. Photo taken 08/24/09.
North Carolina 168 (Caratoke Highway) reaches the Virginia state line at the signalized intersection with North Point Boulevard opposite the Border Station store (the store is bisected by the state line). Virginia 168 begins here and travels a short distance onto the Chesapeake Expressway Photo taken 08/24/09.
North Carolina 345
Southbound reassurance shield posted for North Carolina 345 along Mill Landing Road after its split with Old Wharf Road in Wanchese. North Carolina 345 follows Mill landing Road south to its end at the intersection of Thicket Lump Drive south and The Lane north. Photo taken 04/05/01.
Traveling north along North Carolina 345 after the merge of Mill Landing and Old Wharf Roads in Wanchese. The highway winds northward from its only shield through wetlands and forest to U.S. 64. Photo taken 12/26/00.


  1. Lansford, John. "NC 12 fix not easy," Online posting, misc.transport.road. January 15, 2004.
  2. Froehlig, Adam.
  3. N.C. 3 (N.C. Roads Annex)
  4. "Mid-Currituck Bridge nearly ready to roll." The Virginia-Pilot, November 15, 2009.
  5. "Hurricane Irene Breaches Outer Banks." NASA Earth Observatory, August 28, 2011.

Photo Credits:

  • 12/26/00 by AARoads.
  • 03/31/01 by AARoads.
  • 04/05/01 by AARoads.
  • 12/17/01 by AARoads.
  • 08/24/09 by Connor Lauzon.

Page Updated 08-31-2011.