Regions play second fiddle to Sydney in infrastructure report

Regional NSW is in line for just a handful of major infrastructure projects under a landmark report released today.

Sydney was instead the big winner in the long-awaited Infrastructure NSW report, which outlined what projects should be built in NSW over the next two decades.

Infrastructure NSW has recommended $21 billion worth of projects for Sydney, more than double the $9 billion spend proposed for the rest of the state.

The vast majority of the remaining $9 billion will be spent on transport projects in Newcastle and Wollongong.

The report has proposed a review of the ‘costs and scope’ of the Princes Highway duplication on the south coast, potential privatisation of the Snowy Hydro scheme and possible axing of the XPT rail service . It largely ignored calls for an expressway over the Blue Mountains.

However, the report has proposed the following projects for regional and rural NSW:

• $1 billion to address road and rail ‘pinch points’ to improve freight links and enable trucks to use the regional road network more effectively.

• A $300 million ‘Bridges for the Bush’ program to improve freight productivity.

• Pacific Highway duplication and completion of the Princes Highway duplication to the Jervis Bay turn-off. 

• Construction within 10 years of the $500 million F3 Extension to Raymond Terrace.

• A $500 million investment in road and rail improvements for coal mining-affected towns to manage congestion, improve community safety and amenity and enable efficient freight movements.

• Improved rail connection through the Liverpool Ranges to the port of Newcastle.

• Slashing regional water authorities from 105 to around 30.

• A $700 million program of water and wastewater upgrades to ensure that regional towns meet national water quality standards.

• $400 million for regional dam construction and safety upgrades.

NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell will hold a press conference later today to outline what projects will be supported by his government.

If implemented, the suite of regional projects would add $21 billion to the state’s economy by 2032. Regional NSW contributes around a quarter of the state’s economic output.

The vast majority of the 200-page Infrastructure NSW report is dedicated to large Sydney transport projects.

In an ominous sign for regional residents who travel to Sydney by rail, the report has floated for the first time the prospect that the iconic XPT service could be axed within 10 years.

“A decision will need to be taken on whether the substantial investment required for new rolling stock is justified given very low regional rail patronage, or whether alternative approaches should be a priority,” it warned.

Alternative options include a coach service or introduction of private rail operator.

The report claimed regional roads are in a good condition, with only minor changes required.

“(The) majority of regional roads are performing adequately in terms of ride quality,” the report stated.

“Journey speeds remain stable which indicates that capacity is adequate to meet existing needs.”

In justifying the need for regional road projects, Infrastructure NSW has focused on productivity improvements and paid little attention to consistently high rates of deaths and injuries. 

The chairman of Infrastructure NSW, former premier Nick Greiner, said he hoped the community would regard the report as "independent of the politics of both sides, of the bureaucracy and of the various interest groups".

"The last thing the average person in NSW [wants] is another theoretical exercise that has no likelihood of being achieved,” Mr Greiner told media this morning.

NSW Minerals Council chief executive officer Stephen Galilee welcomed the report’s finding that communities affected by mining needed better infrastructure.

“We welcome Infrastructure NSW’s recommendation for the government to work with local authorities to develop and implement a targeted program of local, regional and state road pinch point upgrades designed to move larger vehicles away from townships,” he said.

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