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The Andrews government faces calls to reconsider spending $16 billion on the most expensive road project ever built in Victoria, as the state braces for an economic slump caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Economists, transport experts and the Victorian opposition said it would be irresponsible to push on with the North East Link as if nothing had changed.
The Grattan Institute's transport and cities program director, Marion Terrill, said the government should re-examine the business case, and reconsider the road’s scope in light of a likely slump in population growth. She said 300,000 temporary visa holders had already left Australia this year, and that number could double by the end of 2020.
“Given the drop in population growth and significant budgetary constraints, it may well make sense to curtail the scope or the way the road is built, even if the decision to proceed still makes sense,” she said.
Treasurer Tim Pallas this week said the state would borrow up to $24.5 billion in emergency funding, which economists believe may take a generation to repay.
The government argues major projects will help the economy recover from a looming recession caused by the coronavirus response, with Premier Daniel Andrews promising this week that Victoria's transport building boom would only get bigger. "Construction will be a very big part of the recovery from the coronavirus crisis," he said.
Labor's largest project is the North East Link - a 26-kilometre tunnel and freeway expansion to improve freight links between the Metropolitan Ring Road in Greensborough and the Eastern Freeway.
In early 2018, a government business case estimated that every $1 spent building the toll road would deliver economic benefits of $1.30 for Victorians.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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