The Illawarra lags a long way behind similar regions in Australia and overseas when it comes to transport links, according to a report released on Friday.
The PricewaterhouseCoopers report, Improving the Illawarra's Connectivity, was commissioned by the Illawarra Business Chamber following the results of a survey of its members.
The overwhelming majority of responses listed transport links with Sydney a crucial issue.
The report compared the Illawarra with four other regions with a distance to a major metropolitan city similar to Wollongong-Sydney.
The regions were the Central Coast, Geelong, the Gold Coast and Lille in France. Each was given scores out of five for connectivity areas such as road, passenger rail and freight rail coverage.
The Illawarra's overall score was 2.4, which was 25-30 per cent lower than the other regions within Australia and 50 per cent lower than Lille.
The report said this poor connectivity could "constrain the social and economic development of the region", paying particular attention to the issues of freight and the slow speed of passenger trains.
"The inadequate coverage of the freight rail network and the topographical constraints of the main road freight corridor increase the cost of moving freight between the Illawarra and Sydney," it said.
"Relatively high public transport journey times, particularly for rail, impact negatively on the productivity of commuters who seek access to the employment centres in Sydney."
The report estimated Illawarra-Sydney transport costs - a combination of out-of-pocket expenses and time - were $550 million a year.
If the region's connectivity was brought up to the same standard as the other benchmark regions, the savings could be as much as $150 million, a figure that would grow as the regional economy got bigger.
The report also suggested the transport network within the Illawarra could hamper its development due to "slow public transport journeys" and lack of space.
"Given the relatively dense land uses in the Illawarra and the physical constraints affecting main road corridors, this will depress economic productivity as peak-period congestion worsens over time," the report said.
The improvement in transport links to Sydney would have a range of benefits, the report said.
These included lowering freight costs for businesses, greater access to employment opportunities outside the region, making the Illawarra a more attractive location for businesses and a "deeper labour market" as more people moved to the region and travelled to Sydney for work.
"Improved transport connectivity could provide a boost to the Illawarra economy by expanding employment opportunities and making it an attractive place for residents and businesses alike," the report said.
Motorway extension makes Ajaka’s list
Minister for the Illawarra John Ajaka has identified the F6 extension as a ‘‘priority project’’ for the NSW government.
Mr Ajaka was on the South Coast on Friday for a range of engagements, including an Illawarra Business Chamber lunch for the launch of a PricewaterhouseCoopers report on transport issues in the region.
One of the longest-running issues has been the F6 extension to St Peters. The government has allocated $11million from the current budget for a feasibility study of the extension.
Speaking before the lunch, Mr Ajaka said this showed the government was serious about the project. Princes Highway upgrades on the South Coast lent weight to any extension of the F6, he said.
‘‘That also then supports the argument further for the F6 extension, because you couldn’t just have the F6 extension without undertaking all of the other roadworks that were necessary at these pinch points.’’
Mr Ajaka also welcomed news the government would look to the private sector to fund the Maldon-Dombarton freight line.
‘‘I’m on record for years as indicating this is something we clearly have to look at,’’ he said.
‘‘My personal view is the right consortium of private investors working together may well be able to mount the business case for commencement of construction.’’
PricewaterhouseCoopers’ economic and policy team partner Mark Streeting, who oversaw the report, said the focus should be on understanding the problem and working with the existing infrastructure, rather than spending on big-ticket items.
‘‘It’s a case of not jumping to that end game and putting up big projects,’’ he said.
‘‘It’s about saying, over the long term, how can we get some incremental improvements in journey time between Wollongong and Sydney. Because every five minutes matters.
‘‘So let’s not try and say we can knock 20 to 30 minutes off travel times, but how can we get the biggest bang for our buck and how can we schedule that investment over the long term to gradually improve passenger and freight connectivity.’’
- GLEN HUMPHRIES