KEENLY anticipated by locals and tourists alike, the completion of the missing link in the Great Southern Rail Trail has moved a step closer.
Deputy Premier and Member for Gippsland South Peter Ryan announced this week that the government will provide $30,000 towards the $40,000 cost of a viability study into the use of the existing trestle bridges at the Black Spur section of the popular trail.
This 2.6 kilometre section of the trail, from Koonwarra to Minns Road outside Meeniyan, includes three trestle bridges and is the only gap in the 49km trail between Leongatha and Foster.
South Gippsland Shire Council has already agreed to provide $10,000 for the project, sourcing the money from the Sport and Recreation Reserve Fund.
“The project will involve an engineering assessment of the three bridges and if that assessment shows that the bridges can be salvaged, then they will be retained and restored, which will drive tourism and investment to the region,” said Mr Ryan.
The Great Southern Rail Trail Infrastructure Report estimates the cost of replacing the existing trestle bridges with new steel bridges at $2,381,160. However, a shire economic impact study shows that additional annual visitor expenditure and benefit to the district flowing from completing this section would be $1,965,079 annually, giving a payback period of 1.2 years for an asset life of 20 years.
The $40,000 study will investigate the structural integrity of the 20 worst trestles at the Black Spur section of the rail trail. If it is feasible to use those trestles, it follows that the others will be suitable. If the study shows that the trestles can be re-used, then the project to complete the Black Spur section of the GSRT will be able to proceed without the expense of building new steel bridges, potentially saving up to one million dollars in construction costs.
Although the trail is popular in its present broken form, community consultation over many years has identified the break in the trail and the resultant need for walkers and riders to join the South Gippsland Highway as hazardous and a disincentive to use the trail.
The economic and social benefits for the shire stemming from completion of the rail trail are widely acknowledged. The completion of the Black Spur section has been identified by the Advancing Country Towns project as a strategic investment for the Tarwin Valley.
Mr Ryan said funding for the project is being provided from the $1 billion Regional Growth Fund’s Putting Locals First program and is supported by Regional Development Australia (RDA).
“In Victoria, RDA is a joint initiative between the Australian and Victorian governments,” Mr Ryan said.
“RDA committees endorse projects under the Commonwealth Government’s $1 billion Regional Development Australia Fund and the Victorian Government’s $100 million Putting Locals First Program.
“The Putting Locals First program supports local infrastructure, facilities and services, to build on the state’s regional economy and contribute to a better quality of life for all Victorians.”