Newcastle council has lodged a development application for its section of the Richmond Vale Rail Trail, but bringing the long-planned cycling track to fruition is going to require substantial state or federal investment as the overall project is now estimated to cost $46.5 million.
The full 32-kilometre trail, which traverses the Newcastle, Lake Macquarie and Cessnock local government areas, is planned to run from Shortland to Kurri Kurri.
It mostly follows the alignment of the old Richmond Vale railway line between Hexham and Pelaw Main.
There have been discussions within the community to convert the line, which closed in 1987, into a walking and cycling track for years.
The three councils formed a working party last year to progress the project, and on Wednesday, Newcastle council lodged a DA for the Shortland to Tarro and Hexham to Lenaghan sections.
Lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes said it was "an important step" to progressing "a truly iconic infrastructure project".
"This unique project will attract substantial economic and social returns for our community, preserve the rich history of our area and showcase the natural beauty of the Hunter Wetlands National Park to pedestrians and cyclists," she said.
"While City of Newcastle has invested and taken the lead to move the Richmond Vale Rail Trail to this stage of approvals, the project will rely on state and federal government funding to bring this exciting vision to life."
The 32-kilometre trail was estimated in 2014 to cost $14 million, but that has risen to $46.5 million according to an environmental impact statement lodged with the DA.
The Newcastle paths are estimated to cost more than $18 million alone.
The path between Shortland and Tarro follows a water main corridor and would require two new bridges to be built over Ironbark and Fishery creeks, along with a 230-metre long boardwalk.
From Hexham to Lenaghan, the path follows the old rail line where six timber bridges would need to be replaced with concrete structures.
A 125-metre long boardwalk would form part of a link to Fletcher and there would also be an entry point and amenities at Minmi.
The Newcastle paths pass through areas home to the Green and Golden Bell Frogs, but the EIS says the project is unlikely to have a significant impact on the species.
Construction of the paths would take 12 to 18 months, but is dependent on funding.
From Lenaghan to Kurri Kurri, the trail is in the Lake Macquarie and Cessnock council areas and is subject to separate development applications and assessments.
The NSW government awarded Cessnock council $75,000 in April to advance its planning documents.
The rail trail, which is similar to the popular Fernleigh Track, is considered to have regional tourism and transport significance.
A 2014 feasibility study predicted it bring $5.2 million into the region per year through day trips and overnight stays.
Newcastle council's DA is on exhibition until September 2. It will be determined by the Hunter and Central Coast Regional Planning Panel.