County receives extension for Highway 132 work

  • Courtesy photo Paving has been completed in the upper portion of Highway 132. Portions of the roadway are being reconstructed after being inundated by lava during the 2018 eruption of Kilauea volcano.

The Hawaii County Department of Public Works has received a three-month extension from the Federal Highway Administration to complete reconstruction of Highway 132 in lower Puna, although the department anticipates work will be finished well before the new deadline.

Portions of the roadway were inundated by lava during the 2018 eruption of Kilauea volcano.

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Work to re-establish the road began June 10 but needed to be completed by Oct. 5 to qualify for 100% reimbursement from the FHA.

The roadwork, however, have been slowed by areas of dense lava rock and pockets of extreme heat in portions of the road’s lower section, which is not conducive to the installation of the asphalt concrete base.

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

The new deadline for work to be completed is Jan. 5, 2020, department spokeswoman Denise Laitinen said, by which time, “we expect to complete all emergency temporary road repairs, including grading of the roadway and shoulders, asphalt concrete base, striping, markers and signage.”

According to a post last week on the department’s Facebook page, paving of the upper section, a distance of about 1.6 miles from the Puna Geothermal Venture checkpoint to the kipuka, an area cut off by last year’s lava flows, is now completed.

Shoulder dressing should begin this week.

Fine grading is ongoing along the lower section of Highway 132, from the kipuka to “Four Corners,” or the intersection of Highway 132 and Highway 137 — a distance of about 1.5 miles — and on Highway 137 from Four Corners to the start of of the lava, about 1,100 feet.

Paving will begin once the grading is complete if temperatures allow for the paving work.

Shoulder dressing, sign installation and striping will follow the paving, and should take about a month.

According to Laitinen, temperatures on the road have been steadily dropping and continue to cool.

As of Sept. 13, road temperatures were down to 147 degrees, although in some pockets, road embankment temperatures were noted around 300 degrees, she said.

The target maximum temperature to install the asphalt is 150 degrees, which means “road temperatures have already reached acceptable levels for paving,” Laitinen said.

“At the current rate of work progress and road cooling, it is currently anticipated that Highway 132 will open in November,” Laitinen said. “DPW staff will be monitoring the temperatures of asphalt-treated base above the hot areas to ensure that it is stable before opening the road.

Once work is completed and base temperature stability is achieved, the road will have to be inspected and construction will have to be accepted by the Federal Highway Administration and state Department of Transportation before it is opened to the public, she said.

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.

Laitinen said the department is still awaiting a response on this request.

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.

The FHA has committed to reimburse the county $6,503,337 for the project.

While initial construction costs were estimated at nearly $12 million, Laitinen said previously that 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.”

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

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

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