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The Napthine government is heading to an election with its key priorities in doubt, as most voters remain unconvinced about the east-west link and more than a quarter say public safety is getting worse.
Despite countless hours and millions of dollars spent marketing the $8 billion road project, the latest Age/Nielsen poll has found that only one in four Victorians believe the tunnel should be the highest infrastructure priority to ease congestion and improve liveability.
Instead, most people want the government to build the Metro Rail Capacity Project - a nine-kilometre underground train line through the city that would allow another 20,000 passengers to use the network during peak hour.
With eight months before election day, the poll is an ominous sign for the Coalition, which is trailing Labor on a two-party preferred basis as it struggles to control a chaotic Parliament, deal with thousands of job losses and fight a bitter industrial battle with paramedics.
Taken last week with a random sample of 1000 voters, the poll also found:
■ Health and hospitals ranked as the number one issue for Victorians, followed by employment and education, while roads and the environment ranked equal last.
■ On transport, 42 per cent of those polled viewed the Metro Rail Capacity Project as the most important, followed by Labor's plan to remove 50 level crossings (27 per cent), while the east-west link was last (24 per cent).
■ And in a damning blow to the government's law-and-order credentials, only a quarter of people said public safety had improved since the last election. Twenty-seven per cent said it had become worse, while 45 per cent believed it had stayed the same.
Government strategists would view the result as a troubling sign, particularly given law and order and infrastructure have traditionally been Coalition strengths.
The east-west link is the biggest project the government has undertaken to so far, with Premier Denis Napthine describing it as a ''game-changing, congestion-busting'' project that will improve productivity and reduce traffic on major inner-city arterials by up to 30 per cent.
But the government has been at pains in recent months to counter Labor claims it has placed ''all its eggs in the wrong basket'', with senior ministers talking up a broader suite of infrastructure projects - including the regional rail link, the development of the ports, and the Metro Rail Capacity Project. Last week, Dr Napthine also suggested that a long-awaited rail link to Melbourne Airport could begin by the end of the decade. Previously, public transport chiefs said the airport link would not be built until much later, because the metro rail project was the ''critical enabler'' for other major train projects.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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