Work began Friday to open an alternate route through Volcano should Highway 11 become impassable.
During a community meeting Thursday in Volcano, Mayor Harry Kim said the county will spare no expense or effort in making sure Highway 11 remains open as long as possible while work on an alternate route commences.
The primary option for an alternate route is a mostly gravel road running closely parallel to Highway 11, connecting the south end of Piimauna Drive to Volcano Road near the Volcano School of Arts and Sciences. Kim said county, state, federal and private agencies would work to make the route passable for general traffic as quickly as possible.
“They said it would take two weeks to finish it,” Kim said. “I said I’d settle for one.”
Kim spoke with Gov. David Ige on Friday to begin the project, said Wil Okabe, county managing director.
“(Kim and Ige) will be working in partnership to make sure the road stays open and traffic can get through to Naalehu,” Okabe said, adding that Kim instructed the Department of Public Works to begin work Friday.
While Okabe confirmed that Kim is still confident work on the alternate route can be completed within a week, he said the encroaching Hurricane Hector could interfere with such plans.
Neil Azevedo, chief of the county Department of Public Works Highway Maintenance Division, assured residents at Thursday’s meeting that the alternate route will only be opened to general traffic if Highway 11 is completely closed. If only one lane of Highway 11 remains open, then the alternate route will remain closed.
Azevedo also confirmed that any work on the alternate route will address the shape of Piimauna Drive, whose dog-leg path where it intersects with Highway 11 makes it highly inconvenient for large trucks.
“We’ll make it round for you,” Azevedo said. “We’ll make it nice and smooth.”
A second potential alternate route is planned to connect the north end of Piimauna Drive across private property to Mahiai Road, and then from Mahiai Road to Wright Road back to Highway 11.
Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno said the legal issues required for the county to build a roadway along that route would take longer to negotiate.
“I realize this is an intrusion on your privacy,” Kim told residents during Thursday’s meeting. “But we have limited alternatives.”
Initial plans for an alternate route included possibly opening Crater Rim Drive within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Kim said, but he discovered the volcano’s frequent tremors have degraded the park’s roads to a greater degree than he expected.
“We can use it in an emergency, but to depend on it for ingress and egress is foolhardy,” Kim said.
The state of Highway 11 has been a cause of concern for several weeks. On multiple occasions, one lane of the highway has been temporarily closed after sinkholes opened beneath the road’s surface, and ongoing seismic activity has caused the highway to buckle and crack.
The seismicity of Kilauea summit is fueled by the receding lava lake at Halema‘uma‘u in the national park, which has led to substantial slumping of the terrain around the caldera, accompanied by frequent collapse events that release energy equivalent to a 5.0-magnitude earthquake or stronger.
Tina Neal, scientist-in-charge at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, said the 62nd such collapse event since the lower Puna Kilauea eruption began occurred Thursday.
Email Michael Brestovansky at email@example.com.