Chain of Craters Road construction to begin today

A Hawaii County bulldozer will begin building a path today through lava rock covering a nearly 8-mile stretch of Chain of Craters Road to create another alternate route for residents threatened by the June 27 lava flow.


A Hawaii County bulldozer will begin building a path today through lava rock covering a nearly 8-mile stretch of Chain of Craters Road to create another alternate route for residents threatened by the June 27 lava flow.

The road would be needed should lava also claim Highway 130, currently the only route in and out of lower Puna, and two alternate routes under construction farther downslope.

Chain of Craters Road has been inundated with lava numerous times since it was opened in 1965 and has been rebuilt four times before, according to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

It was most recently covered by the ongoing Puu Oo eruption on Kilauea’s East Rift Zone that began in 1983. That eruption is now threatening Pahoa.

Mayor Billy Kenoi said the county will begin construction on the first 1.2 miles of the road on the Kalapana side to get a head start. Surveying of the alignment is ongoing in other areas.

The road would be re-established with a gravel surface.

Another 5.4 miles of the buried road is in the park.

The park has been able to expedite preparations on its end by designating the road for emergency access, said Superintendent Cindy Orlando. But those provisions limit the road to one lane with shoulders within the park.

Kenoi said he is requesting through Gov. Neil Abercrombie a declaration of disaster from President Barack Obama that could help with two-lane access.

“We will cut the road through first as one lane and expand to two lanes,” he said.

The letter also requests Abercrombie order the National Guard into active service to help with emergency management.

If limited to one lane, Orlando said the park could alternate the direction of traffic between morning and evening hours.

Abercrombie on Monday signed a supplemental emergency proclamation to include work on Chain of Craters Road as part of disaster relief. The declaration also extends the relief period through Dec. 1.

Kenoi said the county is working with the state and federal governments on the $7 million to $10 million project.

He said the project is expected to take between 45 and 60 days to complete.

Orlando said survey work continues within the park to identify the alignment. Construction on that end could be days or more away.

The road has been blocked by lava for 37 years of its 49-year existence, according to the park.

Orlando said the park would contract with the state or county for construction inside its boundaries. Oversight would be provided by the park and federal Highways Administration.

Kenoi said the county has about $2 million to $3 million left in its emergency fund. He expects reimbursement from the federal government for work related to Tropical Storm Iselle and the alternate routes to help sustain the fund.

“There will be federal and state support,” he said. “The County of Hawaii is paying for this ourselves upfront. We need the work to get done ASAP.”

Kenoi said he might eventually have to request additional funds from County Council.

“Right now, we have the monies to proceed,” he said.

The other alternate routes along Railroad Avenue and Government Beach Road are expected to cost between $1.2 million and $2 million.

Work is wrapping up on Railroad Avenue, a former railroad grade, from Nanawale Estates to Hawaiian Paradise Park.

The routes will be opened as soon as lava reaches the highway, according to county officials.

Hawaiian Volcano Observatory estimated Friday that could happen within 21 days.

More than 7,000 vehicles use the highway near Pahoa each day.

Orlando expects use of Chain of Craters Road as an alternate route would have a significant impact on the park.

“We already got 3,000 to 5,000 a day on our roads,” she said.

“We all anticipate there will be challenges.”

Chain of Craters Road is 19 miles long from the Kilauea summit, near the park entrance, to sea level where it is currently blocked. The drive to Hilo from there would be another 25 miles.

The drive from Pahoa to Chain of Craters Road on the Kalapana side is about 12 miles.

Meanwhile, the flow continued to slow Monday.

A Monday morning Civil Defense overflight found that the flow had shown “little advancement,” according to HVO.

“A breakout several meters (yards) upslope, however, was advancing into forest along the north edge of the flow, and moving in a northeasterly direction,” the update reads.

“With almost no advancement over the past day, the nearly inactive flow front this morning remained 16.4 km (10.2 miles) from the vent, measured in a straight line …”

HVO spokeswoman Janet Babb reported Monday morning the slowing advancement of the flow was typical of this type of lava.

“The activity we’re seeing now, this slowing or possible stalling of the flow front, is within the range of normal behavior with pahoehoe lava flows,” she said. “We’ve seen this change in advance rate on pahoehoe flows throughout the history of the 31-year-long eruption of Pu‘u ‘O‘o.”

She added that the lava breakouts further mauka indicate the flow remains highly active.


“That’s why they’ve been telling people, this is going to be a frustrating experience (following the progress of the flow). It starts, it stops. … It’s a slow, changing process,” Babb said.

Email Tom Callis at and Colin M. Stewart at

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