RURAL groups have praised the Federal Government's extension of its succesful Roads to Recovery program and pressured the State Government to ensure its effectiveness.
Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson announced last week that an extra $1.2 billion would be committed to the program over the next four years, with WA to get $180 million of that.
Roads to Recovery provides $300m a year to local governments for building and maintaining local roads and by 2005 the program will have delivered some $850m for rural and regional councils.
Two thirds of the funding will be allocated to local roads under a continuing formula, the remainder will go direct to councils for local transport infrastructure projects.
WA will also get a share of $800m committed to the Auslink integrated land transport program.
WAFarmers president Colin Nicholl said WA depended heavily on its exports, making the maintenance of road and rail networks especially vital.
"The quality of our arterial routes to port, grain receival points and major rural railway systems is essential to the economic viability and livelihoods of the state's primary producers," Mr Nicholl said.
"We need to ensure that the State Government's commitment to rural and regional transport infrastructure does not falter with the promise of further funds from the east.
"The use of these funds for the Gallop Government's golden Perth to Mandurah rail link would be totally useless."
WAFarmers would prefer the funds be used to upgrade the Shackleton/Kellerberrin Road, Lime Route One, livestock routes to Muchea and much of the Central Wheatbelt railway system.
Federal Roads Minister Ian Campbell suggested the money might be used on the Lancelin-Cervantes Highway and the Great Northern Highway.
WA Local Government Association president Clive Robartson said the extension of Roads to Recovery was a major win for local governments across WA, who had lobbied for a decision for many months.
"Now that the Federal Government has put its cards on the table, it's time for the State Government to commit to restoring funds to local government through the State Road Funds to Local Government Agreement," he said.
He said funds from the five year agreement signed with the previous Liberal Government had been slashed by $12mn under Premier Geoff Gallop.
He feared the agreement would not be renewed once it expired in 2005.
Meanwhile, Nationals WA leader Max Trenorden has accused the State Government of causing unnecessary delays on the $33m upgrade of Great Eastern Highway between Sawyers Valley and the Lakes turnoff.
He said despite being allocated $10m in the 2003/04 federal budget, the government failed to push through the legislation needed to clear 70ha of State forest.
The highway is to be converted to a four-lane dual carriageway.
"The project cannot start now until at least September, which means that thousands of road users will continue to be unnecessarily placed at risk," Mr Trenorden said.