HILO — Highway 132 in Puna, portions of which were inundated by lava during the 2018 eruption of Kilauea volcano, will reopen at noon today.
Mayor Harry Kim said for those waiting for the road to reopen, “it’s been a long time coming.”
The work by both federal and county agencies, for which Kim said he’s grateful, “is beyond belief to me.”
A 1.6-mile stretch of the upper portion of Highway 132 and a 1.5-mile section of the lower portion of the road were inundated and created a kipuka, or an isolated area cut off by last year’s lava flow.
The upper portion traverses from the Puna Geothermal Venture checkpoint to the kipuka, while the lower portion goes from the kipuka to “Four Corners,” or the intersection of Highway 132 and Highway 137.
A 1,100-foot section of Government Beach Road from Four Corners to the lava inundation also was restored.
“On behalf of my community, I’m over the moon we were able to make this happen,” Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz told the Tribune-Herald on Tuesday. “(The Department of Public Works) and the folks that they contracted to make this happen worked very creatively and diligently to make this happen so quickly.”
Work to re-establish the roadway began on June 10.
The county had an original deadline of Oct. 5 to qualify for 100% reimbursement from the Federal Highway Administration.
However, high temperatures created by pockets of still-cooling lava that were encountered on the lower portion of the road — sometimes in excess of 700 degrees — slowed the work, and the FHA granted the county a three-month extension. The revised deadline to complete the work was Jan. 5.
According to a DPW news release, Highway 132 has been restored to two paved travel lanes and shoulders.
Rough grading included the excavation of 109,000 cubic yards of lava rock.
Additional work included fine grading on the roadway and shoulders, paving with an asphalt concrete base, as well as installing striping, markers and signage.
Initial construction costs were estimated at $12 million, but design was done in-house and construction was managed and inspected by the department’s Engineering Division, which reduced costs to approximately $6.5 million — the amount the FHA will reimburse to the county, according to the department.
Restoring the road will provide access for residents with properties in the kipuka to return to their homes and businesses. It also will provide shorter commutes to residents and businesses beyond the lava inundation on Old Government Beach Road, and will facilitate emergency response in the area, DPW said.
“We finally got used to the way it was; now we’ll have to get used to the way it is,” kipuka resident Lisa Roach said.
Roach’s home was lost in a fire started by the lava, but she is currently staying at her neighbor’s home, also in the kipuka.
Roach said she’s thrilled to be able to drive home on the highway again, but has concerns there will be safety issues once the road reopens.
Some people may be “gawking and not paying attention to their driving,” she said, and there likely will be a lot of tourists coming to the area, “creating somewhat of a busy highway.”
Roach, who spoke to the Tribune-Herald by phone and in an email, said, too, that side roads within the kipuka lead to private residences.
“We do hope people who come to drive the new highway will honor our privacy.”
Hawaii Police Department spokesman Alan Richmond said the police will be patrolling the area, but there will be no special emphasis placed on Highway 132.
Additionally, while Puna Geothermal Venture was “very gracious” in allowing residents to use a road across its property, Roach said there were some restrictions on the times it could be used, which “on occasion” affected people.
But now, travel will be unrestricted and it will be “a new normal.”
According to Kim, the county wants to wants to address other roadways “as we go along.”
Pohoiki Road will be a secondary focus, and the county will “address that as soon as we can.”