VICTORIA'S main regional cities would be linked by a four-lane superhighway under an ambitious plan to help the state cope with a vastly bigger population.
Victorian business chiefs today will release a state development blueprint that calls on the Government and Opposition to commit to building a duplicated highway over a several-hundred-kilometre arc from Geelong in the west to Ballarat, Bendigo and on to Shepparton in the north before linking with the Hume Highway.
Under the multibillion-dollar plan, to be unveiled at a summit of business and political leaders at Parliament House, road links would also be improved between Geelong and Colac in the Western District, Ballarat and Horsham in the Mallee, and Traralgon and Sale in Gippsland.
The Victorian Employers Chamber of Commerce and Industry document warns that the state's famous "liveability" might be jeopardised unless more is spent on the regions.
VECCI chief executive Wayne Kayler-Thomson said taxpayers and businesses must be prepared to invest in the liveability of the state's regional cities as they seek to transform themselves from "blue-collar towns to lifestyle centres".
The blueprint amounts to a challenge in the lead-up to next year's election from Victorian business to Premier John Brumby and Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu - who will both address today's summit - to commit to funding major infrastructure projects despite the budget squeeze caused by the global financial crisis.
Business leaders say better road links between regional cities are needed to help reduce their reliance on Melbourne.
Today's summit comes as the latest federal Treasury estimates suggest Australia's population will increase by about 60 per cent over the next 40 years, from 22 million now to 35 million by 2049.
Victoria is growing by more than 1700 people a week, with Melbourne's population expected to rise by 74 per cent, from about 4 million to almost 7 million, by 2049.
Mr Kayler-Thomson is expected to tell the summit that regional Victoria will have to play a major role if the state is to cope with the pressures created by the population boom.
"It is important to have a vision of what Victoria should look like when Melbourne moves ahead of Sydney and becomes Australia's largest city in the 2020s," he said.
"Regional Victoria will have an important part to play in absorbing its share of population growth."
VECCI wants work to start on the superhighway before the 2014 state election.
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