PUNA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - According to U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, National Park Service officials have agreed to establish Chain of Craters Road as a two-lane evacuation route through Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in response to the threat of the Puna lava flow.
This is a significant development for the residents of lower Puna, as experts believe Chain of Craters Road will eventually become the only access road in and out of the district.
USGS geologists with the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory project say the Puna lava flow will move downslope cutting through Highway 130, the district's main thoroughfare, in about three weeks. As it continues to head to the ocean, scientists say it will eventually dissect emergency routes that have been established at Railroad Avenue and Government Beach Road.
County officials have been stressing the importance of turning Chain of Craters Road into a two-lane evacuation route for weeks, citing it as the only option for uninterrupted access for residents of the lower Puna district once the other roads are breached.
The challenge is the roadway runs through county, state and federal property. The state turned over jurisdiction of their portion of the road to the county, but up until Thursday night officials were still working with National Parks to get approval to widen the 18 foot clearance they were given to 28 feet to ensure two-lane access.
According to Rep. Gabbard, NPS officials told her Friday morning that due to new information related to design, construction and anticipated use, they were re-evaluating the road layout and dimensions. Gabbard reports they said they understood the purpose of the road had changed from short-term evacuation to longer-term recurring use and access for a fewer numbers of vehicles than previously anticipated.
Gabbard says as a result, NPS agreed to complete a new environmental analysis to reestablish the Chain of Craters Road to its original alignment width of 22 feet with a gravel surface.
According to Gabbard, park officials feel their revised proposal and purpose will still qualify under the Emergency Action criteria that cleared the way for the road to re-open. Officials say the updated design will be consistent with the width of the existing park roadway segment and will accommodate two-way traffic along its entire length.
Watch for more details tonight on Hawaii News Now.