THE F3 link to Branxton is a top priority for NSW and now considered "critical" to the Lower Hunter's future, Premier Nathan Rees has told the Federal Government.
The F3 had previously been ranked towards the bottom of a wish-list of infrastructure projects, but in a surprise announcement yesterday, Mr Rees listed it among key projects he was pushing for Infrastructure Australia funding.
He said meetings with Asian business leaders had convinced him it was important for NSW to show it could deliver products reliably.
"It [the link] is critical to regional development in the Lower Hunter," Mr Rees said, in outlining the capital works he had submitted for funding.
"Over the last week I have had three significant business forums.
"The first was my export awards last week with some 450 people; earlier this week the NSW Asia business forum; and also I had dinner with some of the captains of Japanese industry the other night.
"The point that I made to them was that we need to embed NSW economic future with the growth of Asia.
"And part of that, particularly if you are a country that takes our coal exports and so on, is we are demonstrating to them we have logistics and capacity arrangements in place in our export centres, particularly around Newcastle, to make sure they are getting reliability of supply in a timely fashion."
Mr Rees said the F3 to Branxton connection would increase the capacity to move freight and release development that had been "constrained" in the Lower Hunter.
He also called for the creation of a northern freight corridor, expected to cost about $3.1 billion.
NSW Minister for the Hunter Jodi McKay said the corridor would be great for the region, as it would separate passenger trains from freight rail, easing congestion.
Mr Rees refused to list the capital projects in order of priority, but said he selected them based on criteria of economic growth, easing congestion and promoting service exports.
The Federal Government has been reluctant to commit to the F3 link and has been looking at other options.
It has carried out a transport study, the findings of which are expected within weeks.
A spokesman for federal Infrastructure and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese said yesterday there was nothing wrong with Mr Rees nominating the link, even though the report might recommend something else.
"Premiers around the country have expressed their views about priorities," he said.
"The Lower Hunter Transport Needs Study will be factored into the Infrastructure Australia process."