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Whoever crosses the premiership finishing line first in the knife-edge state election next month may well be the leader most able to convince voters he can deliver on monumental promises about rail lines. ALP Premier Daniel Andrews and Liberal Opposition Leader Matthew Guy are in an unprecedented $100 billion bidding war, the latest element of which is Mr Guy’s $19 billion, 10-year plan to rebuild Victoria’s regional network. It promises to almost halve some travel times in an effort to take pressure off Melbourne, which has hit 5 million residents and is forecast to grow to 8 million by the middle of the century.
V/Line patronage has more than doubled in the last decade.CREDIT:FAIRFAX
Mr Andrews and Mr Guy are acutely aware that upgrading transport, particularly rail, is key, rather than emulating the populist clamp on population and thus economic growth the former NSW ALP government under Bob Carr misguidedly imposed to alleviate Sydney’s growing pains. Relieving traffic congestion, the biggest brake on the state’s economy, and encouraging regional development, are central to dealing with the pressures caused by the surging population of Melbourne, one of the world’s most rapidly expanding metropolises.
Such a massive infrastructure investment program is necessary, but fraught - given the history of unmet transport infrastructure commitments by governments of both hues. The rail link to Tullamarine, which looks like it will finally be built in coming years, was, for example, first proposed in 1958 and became a perennial proxy for political cynicism and ineptness.
Mr Guy’s proposal is welcome. His vision to stimulate the regions is a formidable and creative response to not only Melbourne’s growing pains, but to the unsustainable imbalance in the Victorian economy.
In recent times, the capital has accounted for pretty much all of Victoria’s economic growth, 40 per cent of it generated within 10 kms of the CBD; the output of some regions grew, that of others shrank and the net result was zero.
Mr Andrews’ earlier announcement of a $50 billion rail loop for outer Melbourne, to be built over 30 years, is also welcome. But in both cases, it is crucial that the public can have confidence that proper planning and due diligence have been done – or will be completed – before such huge sums, ultimately to be carried by taxpayers, are committed.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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