WA Liberal senator Dean Smith has called on the WA government to prioritise the upgrading and sealing of Tanami Road in the East Kimberley.
Mr Smith, WA Transport Minister Dean Nalder and his Northern Territory counterpart Peter Chandler, a group of State and Territory transport industry representatives and Halls Creek shire officials in October drove down the Tanami Road to see for themselves what a difference sealing it would make.
Following this trip, the Federal Government sought a list of preferred projects from WA, Queensland and the NT for funding under the $600 million Northern Australia Roads Package.
The roads package was announced in the Northern Australian White Paper, which identified the Tanami Road and the Outback Highway as "key roads".
The WA government has yet to provide its list of preferred roads projects to the Federal Government, but it is understood that the matter is expected to be considered by State cabinet soon.
Mr Smith called on the WA government to make the upgrading, including the sealing, of the Tanami Road a high order priority for funding under the federal program.
"The Tanami Road is considered by many in WA's far north as a priority because it will provide important access for WA's far-northern pastoral and agricultural industries to Australia's domestic markets in the south east,'' he said.
"Improvements to the Tanami Road will provide greater access and security for those indigenous communities and resource tenements located along its stretch.
"The key to success is to guarantee that the WA government identifies the road as a key project so that it will align with the Federal Government's stated interest in upgrading this vital transport link.
"The vast distances separating WA's northern communities, ports, and population centres means modern road transport infrastructure is critical to building WA's northern towns and communities, growing their local economies and improving export opportunities.
"A clear commitment from the WA government, combined with the potential of private sector investment, the provision of concessional loan guarantees is a powerful step in developing a cost effective, commercially viable and fast-tracked model to improving vital road infrastructure for industry and communities across northern WA."
Mr Smith hoped progress could be made ahead of next week's consultations in Darwin between federal, State and territory officials on the Turnbull government's Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility program.
The program will provide up to $5 billion in concessional loans to help deliver major economic infrastructure projects in Australia's north, in partnership with the private sector.
Mr Smith said the project should be given priority status by both the Commonwealth and WA governments as he hoped the Northern Australia Roads Package combined with the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility would provide the primary source of public and private funding to stimulate infrastructure development across northern Australia.
Mr Nalder said the Tanami Road is a priorities on his list.
"In October, I joined with Senator Smith to examine the condition of Tanami Road and I understand and appreciate the appeals for funding from Senator Smith and others," he said.
"Tanami Rd is one of a number of priorities that we will be submitting to the Federal Government for consideration.
"It has social and economic attributes that make it a worthwhile project.
"There are, however, many competing projects which make it difficult to commit further at this stage."
Tanami Road is 1014 kilometres long, stretching from the Great Northern Highway just south of Halls Creek in WA to the Stuart Highway near Alice Springs.
Some NT sections have been sealed, or are about to be sealed, leaving some 790km unsealed.
The Tanami Road, which is 311km long to the WA border, services Aboriginal communities, tourism, pastoral and mining industries and is a strategic road link.