COMPLETION of the Great Southern Rail Trail between Leongatha and Welshpool has moved a step closer, with South Gippsland Shire Council endorsing a two-stage development of the Black Spur Section along with a bid for state government funding.
The Black Spur section will be the last remaining element of the rail trail to be constructed once the section from Toora to Welshpool is completed later this year. Completion of the 2.6km missing link between Koonwarra and Minns Road, near Meeniyan, will create a seamless 69km trail from Leongatha to Port Welshpool.
At its March meeting, Council voted to seek funding of $500,000 for the first stage of the project from Regional Development Victoria’s Putting Locals First Program.
At the same time it pledged to allocate $250,000 from the 2014/15 budget towards the first stage of the development, if the application is approved by Regional Development Victoria.
Council also endorsed the second stage of the development and the seeking of a further $500,000 from Regional Development Victoria.
Stage One starts at the Koonwarra end of the missing link and will enable access to a picnic area beside the middle trestle bridge, allowing trail users to see this historic bridge from a better perspective. State Two will complete the link to Minns Road.
“This is a great outcome,” said an excited Cr Mohya Davies. “The completed rail trail will be a fabulous asset for our community and for tourists.”
Fellow Coastal-Promontory ward councillor Jeanette Harding agreed, saying, “This is something we really must push for.” She said there was a great need to complete the link in order to prevent walkers and riders having to take their chances on a particularly hazardous section of the South Gippsland Highway.
The Black Spur Section is one of Council’s Priority Projects. It has already had an allocation of $340,000 under the Advancing Country Towns program, with $50,000 of this allocated to the design and planning requirements for an application. The balance of $290,000 will be used to support the grant application for Stage One. The ACT funding must be expended by May 2015.
A report commissioned by Council in 2011 by consultants SGS Economics and Planning outlined the economic and social benefits of a fully realised rail trail.
Completion of the rail trail, which is already a popular attraction, is generally recognised as an invaluable way in which to attract the tourist dollar, or as the mayor, Cr Jim Fawcett, quipped: “If you build a trail, they will come.”
Indeed, the estimated annual benefit of the project is almost two million dollars, giving a payback period of just 1.2 years for an asset life of 20 years, based on the original project estimate of $2.38 million.