Areas of dense lava rock, extreme heat slow progress of Highway 132 restoration

  • Work is underway to re-establish lava-covered portions of Highway 132 in lower Puna. (Courtesy of HAWAII COUNTY/

  • A dozer works Monday at Government Beach Road. (Courtesy of HAWAII COUNTY/

HILO — As crews work to restore lava-covered portions of Highway 132 in Puna, their efforts are being slowed by areas of dense lava rock and pockets of extreme heat underneath.

Portions of the roadway were inundated by lava during the 2018 eruption of Kilauea volcano in lower Puna. Work to re-establish the road began June 10.

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Denise Laitinen, spokeswoman for the county Department of Public Works, said in an email that rough grading work has been completed on the upper section of Highway 132, from just after the entrance to Puna Geothermal Venture and heading makai for 1.7 miles.

Fine grading needs to be completed before the road can be paved, she said.

In the lower portion, from Four Corners heading mauka 1.6 miles, Laitinen said rough grading work is ongoing.

“Work crews have encountered very dense lava rock in this area, which is slowing the pace of work,” she said. “Once the rough grading is complete on the lower portion, the fine grading can be spread before the road is paved.”

Rough grading work from Four Corners toward Old Government Beach Road has started and is ongoing.

“Crews are working hard to meet the Oct. 5 deadline in order to qualify for 100% federal reimbursement of the project,” Laitinen said.

Crews, however, are encountering temperatures of up to 800 degrees in some spots, “where the concern is for temperatures that exceed recommended levels for the installation of asphalt-treated base,” she said.

“While the upper section has had some time to cool and ‘may’ cool to (a) temperature level acceptable for ATB installation, the lower section,which is currently being excavated, will certainly have less time to cool.”

Laitinen said Public Works is seeking a time extension from the Federal Highway Administration to facilitate the proper base installation. Public Works also wants permission from the FHA to open the road in two phases — the upper and lower sections.

According to Laitinen, Public Works is still assessing its options and working out details with the FHA.

Traffic markings and signage also need to be completed for the upper and lower portions of Highway 132, she said.

Additionally, Laitinen said the Highways and Traffic divisions are improving the roadway in the kipuka, an area isolated by lava flows, “which has not been maintained since being blocked by lava.”

That work includes clearing roadside brush, improving road striping and signage.

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Laitinen said previously that Highway 132 will be restored to Four Corners and from Four Corners to the end of the lava inundation on Old Government Beach Road to provide connectivity.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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