Just one in four Victorians believe the Napthine government’s signature project, the east-west link, is more important than improving public transport.
Twelve months before the next state election, an Age/Nielsen poll of 1000 voters reveals just 23 per cent believe building the east-west link road tunnel is a bigger priority than improving public transport, which is the option favoured by 74 per cent of respondents.
The poll result will pile further pressure on the Coalition, which is struggling to communicate its policy agenda above the chaos of State Parliament. The 5.2-kilometre east-west link between the Eastern Freeway and CityLink is the biggest project the Napthine government has undertaken. It argues the link is essential to prevent Melbourne being crippled by congestion, and will reduce peak-hour traffic by up to 30 per cent on many notoriously clogged arterial roads. It also argues the road will improve tram travel in the inner north, because five tram routes that intersect with Alexandra Parade will get a better run.
The road has been endorsed by powerful lobbying voices including the construction unions, the RACV and business group the Victorian Employers’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Yet, the wider public evidently remains sceptical of the east-west link’s benefits. This poll’s clear, stated preference for better public transport over a single major road project is a demographic puzzle that threatens to trip up the government in its first term.
The 74 per cent result in favour of public transport is a mirror image of the result of the 2011 census, which found that 74 per cent of Melburnians drive to work and just 16 per cent use public transport. Victoria remains a place in which the private vehicle dominates peoples’ transport choices.
The government argues the east-west link is not a case of road versus rail, and that it has invested in public transport.
Since coming to power, it has established a dedicated authority for public transport in Victoria, which has overseen the addition of several hundred extra weekly train trips to timetables, the overhaul of bus routes in growth suburbs, the procurement of new trains and trams and the opening of new stations at South Morang, Williams Landing, Lynbrook and Cardinia Road.
But many of these projects started under the former Labor government, and the poll result, which also puts the government in a losing position at the next election, suggests the Coalition needs to press ahead in the next 12 months with a major public transport project of its own.
Brian Negus, the RACV’s general manager of public policy, said the government needed to make a move on the $9 billion Melbourne Metro rail tunnel before November’s election.
“In heading for the next election, we will certainly be proposing that the government needs to finalise their arrangements for the east-west link, but they also need to deliver a strong commitment to the Metro rail tunnel,” Mr Negus said.