Known as Virginia Dare Trail between Southern Shores and Whalebone Junction, North Carolina Highway 12 straddles the coastline along a two-lane alignment through Nags Head, Kill Devil Hills and Kitty Hawk. With a 35 mph speed limit, the beach road is home to a number of condominiums, hotels, vacation rentals, restaurants and other commercial establishments.
Beyond U.S. 158, NC 12 spurs 21.3 miles north along a narrow strip of land between Currituck Sound and the Atlantic Ocean through to Currituck County. Following Ocean Trail by a number of beach homes and condominiums, the two-lane road serves the communities of Southern Shores, Duck and Corolla. The state route ends at Coral Lane, a short distance north of the Currituck Beach Lighthouse at Corolla Light.
SR 1437 extends 0.6 miles northward from N.C. 12 in Corolla to North Beach Access Road, a paved road to the Ocean Hills community. The access road ends at the beach, which is driveable by four-wheel drive vehicles northward from there to the community of Carava.
South of Whalebone Junction, NC 12 enters Cape Hatteras National Seashore via Cape Hatteras National Park Road. Posted with a 55 mile per hour speed limit, the two lane highway stays west of built up areas along Bodie Island through to Bodie Island Lighthouse Road. South of the U.S. Coast Guard Station, NC 12 makes a sweeping S-curve across Oregon Inlet on the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge.
Herbert C. Bonner Bridge
Opened in 1964, the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge spanning Oregon Inlet measured 12,866 feet in length with a 27.9 foot wide deck accommodating two lanes of travel. Due to the rising costs of controlling beach erosion and damage caused by nor’easters and hurricanes, officials undertook a $9.5 million long range study to address these issues. Possibilities discussed including building a new 17 mile bridge to bypass three beach erosion problem areas on the northern end of the Hatteras National Seashore area and within Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. This $260 million alternate contrasted with a more modest 6-mile bridge suggested by the the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.1
The 2003 landfall of Hurricane Isabel further increased erosion issues along North Carolina 12. Storm surge from the category two storm carved out two new inlets across Hatteras Island National Seashore, cutting off Buxton, Hatteras, Rodanthe, Waves and Salvo from the North Carolina 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 restore NC 12 onto its original roadway. After several months of debate, the U.S. Army Core of Engineers agreed to fill in the inlets and reconstruct NC 12 as it was.
The landfall of Hurricane Irene on August 27, 2011 resulted in the closure of NC 12 between Pamlico Sound and the Atlantic Ocean. Washing the two lane roadway out, storm surge formed several new inlets between the two bodies of water. 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 NC 12 damage.5
A final design for the Bonner Bridge replacement was selected, and the North Carolina Department of Transportation awarded a design-build contract for the new span in July 2011. Costing $246 million, the Bonner Bridge Replacement Project constructed a new span between 50 and 189 feet west of the original. Factoring in the new approach roadways, the project totaled 3.5 miles in length. The 3,500 foot long bridge includes seven navigational spans at an average width of 300 feet, compared to the single 130 foot wide navigational span on the predecessor bridge.
Following law suits filed in 2011 and August 2013, groundbreaking for the new Oregon Inlet Bridge finally took place on March 8, 2016. The new bridge with two 12-foot travel lanes with 8 foot-wide outside shoulders was expected to open in Fall 2018. It opened to motorists on February 25, 2019. The 1964-bridge was partially demolished, with segments used at offshore reef sites. A 1,000 feet section of the old span was retained and repurposed for pedestrians. Overall project work continued through September 2019.
The 1950 Rand McNally North American Road Atlas displays a proposed toll road extending north along what is now NC 12 between Southern Shores and Corolla, and along the beach areas from Carova north to Virginia Beach, Virginia. This alignment was dropped by the 1954 edition.
Several proposals emerged to build a new bridge across Currituck Sound to NC 12 and Corolla with U.S. 158 on the Currituck County mainland. Opponents contended that this road would only benefit tourists from Virginia, and further spur development along NC 12 south along Bodie Island.
One of nine projects developed by the North Carolina Turnpike Authority was a new tolled span across Currituck Sound linking U.S. 158 with NC 12. If built 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 discussion outlined a possible completion date in 2013, the Record of Decision process continued until March 2019. 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. Cost estimates for the new crossing are $491-million. Construction on the span may begin in Spring 2021 if funding is secured by Summer 2020.