The state government's 20-year transport plan for NSW shines a spotlight on the serious long-term challenges facing the Illawarra's road and rail freight network.
Up to 20 per cent of the traffic on Wollongong's arterial roads was already made up of heavy vehicles, mostly trucking coal from the region's mines, as well as grain and other freight, the draft plan said.
More than 20 million tonnes of rail freight also rolled through the region every year, most of it to Port Kembla, adding to traffic congestion because of the area's high number of rail level crossings.
"As well as impacting directly on amenity, growth in traffic around and through the city has the potential to create new bottlenecks in regional supply chains, restricting expansion and productivity in key industries," the plan said.
Port Kembla's planned $600 million expansion amplified the need to bolster the region's freight network.
The port was the state's hub for car imports and a key export point for coal and grain, it said.
Coal exports in 2010-11 topped 14 million tonnes.
The government is due to release a specific port and freight strategy before the end of the year.
"Due to expansion at Port Kembla, further rail freight access planning is required to ensure that landside freight connections are improved and enhanced," the transport plan said.
"Rail access to Port Kembla is increasingly constrained."
The government plans to lease the port to the private sector for 99 years, for about $500 million.
The draft transport plan, released this week, has been criticised for its lack of detail.
It emphasises the need to increase network and supply chain efficiency statewide, and says the government will promote off-peak freight movements and better manage conflicts between freight and passenger transport. Individual port growth plans would also be completed, although no time frame was included.
The Port Kembla plan would provide not only for the outer harbour expansion but also the development of two container facilities, to be constructed between 2014-25 and 2026-37, depending on demand, the report said.
Pre-construction work on the Maldon-Dombarton rail link was also listed as a short to medium-term possibility.
The Illawarra Business Chamber reserved judgment on the draft until funding and delivery details were available.
Chief executive Mike Leask said it would be "critical" for the federal and state governments to work together to plan key pieces of infrastructure.
The final master plan will be released later this year.