Risky Roadway Now Safe for Drivers

Scott Ishikawa
Scott Ishikawa
Chopper 8 captures the scene of the rockslide on April 7
Chopper 8 captures the scene of the rockslide on April 7

WAIMEA BAY (KHNL) - Kamehahmeha Highway, near Waimea Bay, was closed Thursday morning, while crews inspected the area where a massive rockslide happened earlier this month.

The area is number two on Oahu's list of locations, prone to dangerous rockslides.   Since the boulders came crashing down almost two weeks ago, the highway has only been open to one lane contraflow traffic.   But, depending on Thursday investigation, traffic could be back to normal as soon as next week.

It's a battle that pits engineering against Mother Nature.   The cliff is prone to sliding, so these engineers and geologists must continually create ways to protect people driving below.   In the past seven years, there have been three major rock slides here.

"The initial rock fall happened back in 2000. That's the whole reason this protective fencing went up," said Scott Ishikawa, spokesperson for the Department of Transportation.

After that, the state spent seven and a half million dollars to re-engineer the area.   In addition to the fence they moved the road and made a catch ditch.

On April 7th, it was put to the test.

"The fence did hold up, it took a beating, but it did do its job."

Now, they are trying to find more ways to reduce the risk of falling rocks so this beautiful coastal drive doesn't become a nightmare.

"We'd rather have the fence take a beating, than somebody getting hurt, we can always replace the fence."

By studying fractures and erosion, they're able to predict when a big rock-slide is right around the corner.  Thursday, they found clues.   After two hours scaling the rocks, they give the all clear.   The Department of Transportation says the highway will re-open to two lane traffic, next week.    The engineering crews say there may be more ways to re-enforce the cliffside.   They'll make their recommendations to the state next week.