Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park prepares for Chain of Craters emergency route opening

Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park prepares for Chain of Craters emergency route opening

BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - Two days after Hawai'i County crews completed clearing Railroad Avenue to turn it into an bypass roadway connecting Leilani Estates to Hawaiian Paradise Park -- work has begun on a third emergency route, Chain of Craters Road, in the event the Puna lava flow crosses Highway 130 and cuts off residents south of the flow from Kea'au and Hilo.

Although, the Puna lava flow has stalled in recent days -- officials say activity at the Pu?u ?O?o crater leads them to believe it will pick up again and when it does it will likely contine along its downslope path -- dissecting Highway 130 and eventually Railroad Avenue and also Government Beach Road as it makes its way to the ocean.

Officials say Chain of Craters Road is a last case resort -- though could become the only route -- into and out of lower Puna for residents. The 49-year-old road, which runs through Hawai?i Volcanoes National Park hasn't been completely open for 37 years because of previous lava flows.

Park officials say the lava on average is about 40 feet high, but in some places it's up to 100 feet. There are approximately 8 miles that need to be cleared from the Highway 130 Kalapana Junction to the paved portion within the Naitonal Park in order to create an emergency route, which will link up to Crater Rim Drive and Highway 11, or Volcano Road, and on into Kea'au or Hilo.

Park officials say they're adjusting for the increase in traffic as best as possible to accommodate the 5,000 visitors who pass through everyday and the lower Puna residents who will be facing a nearly 2 hour, 70 mile detour. They say drivers should be prepared for some areas closest to popular park attractions to be congested, plus the hair-pin turns in some spots require slower speed limits. Puna residents will not be charged for entry into the park if they're using the emergency route. Federal, state and county agencies say they're all committed to working together to ensure access will be as easy on everyone as possible.

Construction is underway and officials estimate it will take several weeks to complete. The estimated cost is $8 million.

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