turnin: When you "improve" roads be careful what you wish for. Long straight wide roads are boring, better to spend the money on driver trainingHaving done a lot of driving in the US on their State highway network I have to say that I can drive a lot further with much less fatigue than driving in New Zealand. In fact, I just came back from driving to Maine (6 hour drive) and I was less fatigued by it than doing Wgtn -> Taupo. The US highways aren't straight, but their frequent curves have a far greater radius than NZ's.
In addition, despite driving the same model car as in NZ (Honda Jazz/Fit), I can also say that the fuel economy is also much improved, even with similar topographical conditions to NZ further up north toward Acadia. The thing that interested me was that all the way up to Bangor featured a dual/tri/quad carriageway with a median.
oxnsox: We're not the only country having trouble funding road maintenance. I remember hearing on radio a month or so back that the United States federal road funding authority was close to broke. But I had to laugh when I heard the reason. Apparently the move to more fuel efficient vehicles there has been so successful they're selling less fuel and collecting less taxes. ...It's improved fuel consumption and decreased per-capita mileage, but also legislative. Basically, the Republicans who control the house are loathe to increase the federal fuel tax (some Tea Party members swear an oath against tax increases). The tax hasn't increased since 1993, when it was set at aprrox NZ 5c a litre, with a further 9c/l (average) state tax. Therefore in real terms it's dropped substantially in that time. In NZ the fuel tax is 50c.
Of course, the other issue they're facing is that because they built the network out very quickly in the 50s, a huge proportion of the bridges are either reaching the end of their design life or mid-life refurbishment ages. As to the road surface itself, I've found it to be built and maintained to pretty high standards and there seems to be much less in the way of roadworks, so I imagine they last longer.
In regard to the US decreases in miles travelled, IMHO the GFC and high fuel prices played a major role in the US. It's hard to overstate just how much more affected the US was than NZ. Total miles driven levelled off at ~3,000 trillion miles in 06/07/08 and dipped only slightly since. The economy is now recovering, however, and it looks like this year is going to see a increase in miles travelled. I'm sure there are structural changes that are playing a role, for example the effect of the internet, but the growing economy is going to increase mileage again.
Even despite fractional changes in mileage, there is still a lot New Zealand can do to continue to make it's roads more forgiving to driver error...