Barriers pulled for Puna highway contraflow

  • State Department of Transportation crews in January installed concrete barriers along the mauka side of Queen Kaahumanu Highway near the entrance to the Huehue lava tube in North Kona. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today, file)

KAILUA-KONA — Concrete barriers installed earlier this year to prevent cars from stopping alongside Queen Kaahumanu Highway to view the Huehue lava tube are being removed.

State Department of Transportation crews on Friday afternoon worked to remove the 1,000 feet of barriers that had been installed in early January on the mauka side of the highway about 2 miles north of Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole. The work caused traffic backups for commuters using the heavily traveled highway between Kohala and Kona.

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Tim Sakahara, DOT spokesman, said Friday afternoon “the barriers are being moved to Highway 130 to help support the new contraflow that begins Monday.”

That contraflow is a reconfiguration of a stretch of Highway 130 that will add a new northbound lane from 5:30-8:30 a.m. on weekdays. It will create a lane wherein traffic will flow in the opposite direction from normal on the highway’s central lane between Shower and Kaloli drives.

Sakahara did not respond to an inquiry on whether a plan had been developed for the public to safely visit the lava tube site. The no parking signs remain.

The Huehue lava tube had become an increasingly popular tourist destination, particularly with the 2018 eruption of Kilauea Volcano that closed Nahuku or Thurston Lava Tube within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

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The increased usership resulted in motorists reporting unsafe conditions as visitors illegally crossed the highway and cars pulled off and onto the highway in a 55 mph zone.

State transportation officials said last summer they were unaware of the safety concerns until they were contacted by the newspaper. The barriers were installed a few months later.

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