County urged to reopen Hwy 132

Puna Councilwoman Eileen O’Hara will introduce a resolution during a County Council meeting Thursday, urging the county to reopen Highway 132 and develop additional alternative routes.

After about 3 miles of Highway 132 were covered by lava during the Kilauea eruption in lower Puna earlier this year, Government Beach Road has become the only access road for several residences in Waa Waa and surrounding areas.

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“The primary need we have is access,” O’Hara said. “Not many people know that there’s about a thousand residents dependent on Government Beach Road now, and it’s been closed twice” since the eruption.

Government Beach Road is a narrow, rough road that passes below the high surf mark at at least one location, O’Hara said. Sometimes, drivers have to turn around because the ocean has dragged boulders into the roadway, she continued.

“It’s never really functioned as an emergency route as a result,” O’Hara said.

The road also is the only access route for trucks to reach the Kapoho Cinder Pits. O’Hara said 33 trucks from Sanford’s Service Center drive through Hawaiian Shores daily to reach Government Beach Road, which is not an ideal situation for residents — who have to deal with loud and large trucks on residential streets — or truck drivers — who have to negotiate an emergency route not intended for truck traffic.

“Currently weighing up to 45,000 pounds, these large trucks emit toxic diesel fumes and use Jake brakes while traveling on streets including (the Hawaiian Shores Community Association’s) privately held Papio Street,” wrote Katherine Kuhlman of the HSCA in a letter. “Papio Street has a posted 25 mph speed limit and features a quiet park used by visitors, families, children and pets.

“This narrow street was not constructed nor was it intended to accommodate commercial trucks of this weight load factor,” Kuhlman continued. “It has been used over the last 5 months at a frequency of up to 55 passages per day, 5 days a week and continues to be used in this capacity. This cannot continue. Papio Street is being destroyed.”

O’Hara said Sanford offered to rebuild about 1 mile of the destroyed stretch of Highway 132, while Puna Geothermal Venture also might be willing to assist because of its reliance on the highway. With that assistance, reopening the highway is possible, but the county has not taken steps to do so, O’Hara said.

“Every time I try to talk with anyone at the county about it, I’m met with blank stares,” O’Hara said.

Mayor Harry Kim said earlier this month that the county would not be able to clear lava from the similarly covered Highway 137 because of a core of still dangerously hot lava that remains beneath the flow’s cooled surface. Removing the lava, he said, would have to wait until a minimum of six months passed since the pause in the Kilauea eruption.

The resolution urges the county to identify funding sources and develop plans for reopening the highway while also opening alternate routes in the meantime.

Another route, Railroad Avenue, could be developed for use if the county obtains rights-of-way from landowners. O’Hara said the county entered discussions with all three landowners involved, “so I’m pretty sure it’s all doable.”

The resolution also asks the county to work on realigning Government Beach Road to make it safer for traffic.

O’Hara said the resolution has a lot of support, which she hopes will get the county administration to take notice.

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“I hate to see what’s been happening in Leilani (Estates),” O’Hara said, referencing that community’s stated intention to sue the county over its lack of communication following the eruption.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.