County waits for Hwy 132 deadline extension

  • Tribune-Herald file photo Heavy machinery cuts through the lava over Highway 132 in June in Pahoa.

Paving of the upper portion of the once lava-covered Highway 132 in lower Puna began Sept. 3, according to the county Department of Public Works.

But with an Oct. 5 deadline to complete the reconstruction of the roadway approaching, the county has yet to receive approval from the Federal Highway Administration for a requested three-month extension.

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Portions of Highway 132 were inundated by lava during the 2018 eruption of Kilauea volcano. Work to re-establish the road began June 10 but needs to be completed by Oct. 5 to qualify for 100% reimbursement from the Federal Highway Administration.

Public Works Director David Yamamoto said in an update before the County Council Public Works and Mass Transit Committee earlier this week, that temperatures in the lower section of the roadway are a lot higher because that portion of the road was opened up later and has more dense rock.

Temperatures wouldn’t be conducive to install the asphalt concrete base course at this time because the asphalt would melt, he told the committee.

Crews have encountered temperatures of up to 800 degrees in some spots of the lava rock.

Yamamoto said the department has requested an extension from the FHA to finish the bottom section “given the higher temperature that is preventing us from completing it.”

That request was sent several weeks ago, but the department has not received a response, “although we have spoken to some of the staff-level members and their take on it was that it was a reasonable exception to make for us,” he said.

Although the extension request is for three months, Yamamoto told the committee the department would proceed with the asphalt installation on the lower section “as soon as the temperatures came to (an) acceptable level and complete it as soon as we can.”

In addition to the extension, Public Works also wants permission from the FHA to open the road in two phases — the upper and lower sections.

As reported previously, the temporary road is following the path of Highway 132 before it was inundated with lava and is designed to have the same alignment and design speed as the pre-existing roadway. Highway 132 will feature two 12-foot travel lanes and 10-foot shoulder, on par with the highway’s pre-eruption condition.

According to department spokeswoman Denise Laitinen, the FHA has committed to reimburse the county $6,503,337.

While initial construction costs were estimated at nearly $12 million, Laitinen said the estimate was based on the project being completed via “typical processes,” and includes costs for consultant designs, bidding and construction by a contractor.

But design and construction work are being done in-house by the department, “where cost savings are anticipated.”

With initial paving, the projected cost of the reconstruction is approximately $6.5 million now, according to Laitinen.

Unless the Federal Highway Administration increases its funding, any costs above its current funding obligation would need to be assumed by the county, she explained.

As of Aug. 30, Laitinen said rough grading and crushing and spreading of base material was complete in the upper section of Highway 132, from the Puna Geothermal Venture checkpoint to the kipuka, an area cut off by last year’s lava flows, which is a distance of approximately 1.6 miles.

Fine grading was expected to be completed in the first week of September and paving with the asphalt concrete base course began Sept. 3.

Laitinen said shoulder dressing, sign installation and striping will follow the paving work.

In the lower section of Highway 132, from the kipuka to “Four Corners,” or the intersection of Highway 132 and Highway 137, approximately 1.5 miles, and on Highway 137 from Four Corners to the start of the lava, a length of about 1,100 feet, rough grading has been completed and crushing and spreading of base material is ongoing.

Fine grading was set to start the first week of September and paving with asphalt concrete base course will begin as soon as the road temperature cools down to allow for the paving work.

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Shoulder dressing, sign installation and striping work will follow the paving.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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