Despite delays caused by hot lava rock, Highway 132 could reopen next month

  • Photo courtesy of Hawaii County Department of Public Works Paving of Highway 132 in lower Puna where Four Corners, or the intersection of Highways 132 and 137, meets Government Beach Road.

Paving on the reconstructed portion of Highway 132 has been completed, and the county Department of Public Works anticipates opening the road in November.

Portions of the lower Puna road were inundated by lava during the 2018 eruption of Kilauea volcano.

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Paving of the 1.6 mile upper section, which traverses from the Puna Geothermal Venture checkpoint to the kipuka, an area cut off by last year’s lava flows, was completed last month.

Shoulder dressing will be completed by next week, according to an update posted Tuesday on the County Department of Public Works Facebook page, and sign installation and striping will follow.

Meanwhile, paving on the the 1.5 mile lower section of Highway 132, from the kipuka to “Four Corners,” or the intersection of Highway 132 and Highway 137, and on Highway 137 from Four Corners to the start of the lava, a distance of about 1,100 feet, began Sept. 16 and also has been completed.

Shoulder dressing, which Public Works spokeswoman Denise Laitinen said entails filling and leveling the 5-foot unpaved shoulders on both sides of the road, will begin next week, with sign installation and road striping to follow.

Work to re-establish the road began June 10 and initially needed to be completed by Saturday to qualify for 100% reimbursement from the Federal Highway Administration. That deadline, however, was extended to Jan. 5, 2020, at the request of the county.

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

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

According to the DPW Facebook update, asphalt surface temperatures are being monitored, and the highest current reading is about 160 degrees.

Crews are still monitoring and investigating asphalt surface temperatures on the lower section, Laitinen said.

Laitinen said the high temperatures remain a concern.

“Not only is temperature of concern, but also undersurface voids that can suddenly collapse, as well as sharp, uneven lava surfaces,” she said. “As was the case before the road was inundated with lava, areas beyond the road shoulder are private property and people need to stay within the roadway pavement and dressed shoulder.”

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

“Because of the remaining work to be completed, DPW anticipates opening both sections of Highway 132 at the same time sometime in November, as conditions allow,” Laitinen said.

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 just over $6.5 million 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. Laitinen said the restoration of Highway 132 is expected to come within that budget.

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

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