Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester says all levels of government need to commit to building on the success of the $5 million East Gippsland Rail Trail redevelopment with ongoing maintenance funding and new stages.
At Saturday’s official opening of the upgraded trail at Mossiface, Mr Chester said that it hadn’t always been popular to support the project but it was already delivering social and economic benefits.
“Today’s official opening is a victory for the persistence and determination of volunteers who fought for years to secure funding for upgrades because it was hard to convince governments to back the project,” Mr Chester said.
“I remember meeting with some of the rail trail volunteers several years ago and they explained their predicament. The State Government, which owns the old railway easement, wasn’t interested in giving them any money for improvements and the East Gippsland Shire Council was drip-feeding some small maintenance grants, because they didn’t own the land and it wasn’t their problem.
“Fast forward a few years and I was able to convince the previous Federal Government to provide $2 million for major improvements because of the social and economic benefits of the trail.
“The volunteers leveraged that grant after the Black Summer bushfires to secure more funding for local economic recovery, and now we have a world-class off-road cycling, walking and running path.
“In total, the Federal Government has provided about $3.5 million and the State Government $1.5 million to the 100 kilometre trail which is already enjoying increased usage.
“Well done to the committee members and local contractors who delivered great value for money with new bridges, better drainage, lighting, signage, water stations and an upgraded surface.”
Mr Chester said the challenge for the future was maintaining EGRT at a high standard and expanding the network to include a link to key tourism destinations like Metung, Lakes Entrance, Paynesville and Marlo.
“I believe we need to maintain the momentum and link EGRT to the Gippsland Lakes Discovery Trail and also provide safe cycling paths to Marlo and Paynesville,” Mr Chester said.
“As the Snowy River railway bridge project gets underway, there’s going to be more interest in cycling tourism and we need to capture the opportunity as a region.
“This is an obvious opportunity for all levels of government to work together and deliver long-term infrastructure projects with strong community backing.”