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Approval comes to rework road for lava evacuation

  • USGS / NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE
    A thermal image of the flow front
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HILO » The National Park Service has agreed to allow a 5-mile stretch of Chain of Craters Road to be re-constructed as a two-lane evaucation route in the event lava cuts through two other emergency access roads in Puna.

The lava-covered road is one of three routes being constructed in the event the most recent lava flow from Kilauea Volcano cuts off access to the more than 8,000 residents of Lower Puna — which could occur in a matter of weeks.

If lava cuts through the other emergency routes, Chain of Craters Road would be the only access to and from the area. 

Nearly eight miles of the road is covered by lava rock from past flows and needs to be rebuilt. Park service officials had been insisting that the 5.4 miles within the boundaries of Volcanoes National Park be re-built as a single lane highway to reduce damage to ancient archaeological sites and endangered species.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz said during a conference call Friday that NPS agreed to the new terms since the road will only be used for a short period of time but will have a longer-term impact.

The decision also means that construction work may be federally reimbursed.

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, also part of the call, said NPS officials agreed to widen the road since the width will be the same as the original road, allowing it to be in line with the National Environmental Policy Act.

Construction is estimated to cost $7 million to $10 million for the national park’s portion of the road.

The roadwork could take 45-60 days to complete, but Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi said the work would be done more quickly if need be.

"If necessary, construction will be expedited," he said.

Kenoi said that construction crews are already "on the ground" since an executive order allowed for the state to turn over its portion of the road to the county.

Meanwhile the county is working on two other emergency road projects- Railroad Avenue and Government Road.

Friday’s news was a relief to Puna resident Jo Ann Borges, who says having two-lane access would "definitely be much better."

"My husband was saying the other night that with only one-lane, the amount of traffic would be crazy. For myself, two-lanes would be much better," she said.  

Chain of Craters Road would be open to only an estimated 4,000 vehicles per day.

Traffic on the restored sections of the road would be limited to 35 mph on the county-controlled portions and could be slower in the national park if the road is restricted to one lane.

The June 27 lava flow has advanced about 60 yards since Thursday. 

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