One of the bridges over Darebin Creek. Photo: Justin McManus
THE biggest gap in Melbourne's web of off-road bike paths will be joined, with the Baillieu government committing $18 million to connect the dead-end Darebin Creek trail to six other bike routes.
Cycling advocates who have fought for two decades to have the trail extended hailed the decision as a watershed moment for pedal-powered transport in Melbourne, which will make it easier for thousands of people to ride across the city.
The 1.8-kilometre extension will link the southern end of the Darebin Creek trail in Alphington with the main Yarra trail in Kew, ultimately connecting it to a 600-kilometre network of off-road trails through the suburbs.
Work on the path will begin next year and is expected to take three years to complete. It will require the construction of four bridges - a 50-metre bridge across the Yarra River and three smaller bridges across Darebin Creek.
Cyclists who had planned to hold a rally on Sunday at the trail's end said they would instead gather to celebrate the long-sought breakthrough.
''The decision to fire up the Darebin Bridge project is a great leap forward by the government,'' said Bicycle Network Victoria chief executive Craig Richards.
''This decision is the culmination of a 17-year campaign by Bicycle Network and Melbourne bike riders and we expect this facility to become one of Melbourne's major attractions.''
Planning Minister Matthew Guy said the bike trail would be extended as part of the government's 10-year strategy to improve cycling opportunities, to be released next year.
The strategy, which is being written in response to a damning 2011 auditor-general's report into the fractured handling of Victoria's cycling strategy, will put cycling under the direction of a single authority.
''The Darebin Creek trail is one of the key missing links in Melbourne's bike network and today's announcement will open up hundreds of kilometres of bike paths throughout Melbourne,'' Mr Guy said.
''The new path will provide a more viable option to commute to work in the CBD and for children to travel across the river to school by bike.''
The new path will skirt Alphington Grammar, the Latrobe Golf Club and Kew Billabong.
The environmentally sensitive nature of the land it will cut through provoked strong community debate when the trail was originally planned several years ago. Opponents, including three local councils, sought to block its development in court. The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal ultimately granted Parks Victoria approval to build the trail in 2009.
Banyule councillor Tom Melican, a fervent, long-time supporter of the trail, said it would unlock access to the rest of Melbourne for riders living in the north-eastern suburbs.
''By plugging this gap, it means you can virtually ride around Melbourne off-road non-stop. That's how important it is,'' Cr Melican said.