GBI called upon to create evacuation road for Big Island residents amidst Mt. Kīlauea eruptions

Big Island - Chain of Craters Rd

GBI’s Chain of Craters Road project received national press coverage due to the high level of interest in the ongoing eruption of the Big Island’s Kīlauea volcano.

The purpose of this project was to provide a one-way alternate emergency route for passenger vehicles from lower Puna up through Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park to Highway 11 in case Highway 130, the only remaining route into lower Puna, became impassable. Large cracks opened up on Highway 130 where it passes directly over the East Rift Zone, and just to the east of the erupting lava fountain.

This is the second time GBI has been entrusted to open an evacuation route in a volcanic emergency. In 2014, during the Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō lava flow, GBI performed a significant portion of the work to open Chain of Craters Road for emergency access. Now, in 2018, the National Park Service and state Department of Transportation (DOT) called on GBI once again. This time, the job was to reestablish a passable route over the 0.7 miles of roadway covered during the 2016-2017 lava flow event that originated at the Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō crater and ended in the ocean immediately adjacent to Chain of Craters Road.

In GBI fashion, bringing in crews and equipment to break ground on this project was accomplished in one day; the work was completed in four days. A major concern was that Chain of Craters Road is located inside Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. The park has been closed to the public because of hazardous volcanic and seismic activity. The surrounding roads were thoroughly inspected to ensure that the cracks caused by the volcanic activity had not compromised the integrity of the road to the point that heavy equipment would not be supported. Blessings were performed by local kumu (Hawaiian teachers) before taking the heavy equipment over the roadway. An escort was provided by the Hawai‘i County Police Department and the DOT.

GBI had to mobilize all of the equipment required for this project over the cracks in Highway 130. The DOT covered ten of these cracks using four large steel plates on each crack. Some of the plates were hot to the touch and were of considerable concern when subjected to heavy loads. Island Topsoil provided the equipment mobilization trucking, and together with GBI and DOT engineers, they transported the equipment across the plates slowly and deliberately, watching for any sign of distress under the heavy loads.

Extra environmental measures were taken to ensure that the job did not adversely impact any natural resources in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. All equipment, including the haul trucks and lowboys, had to be thoroughly cleaned in order to pass a required inspection performed by national park specialists. The purpose of the cleaning and inspection was to prevent the transmission of invasive species, such as coqui frogs, fire ants, or fountain grass.

Air quality was also a major safety concern. GBI personnel were fit tested to OSHA standards and respirators were issued to protect them from the dangerous acidic gases (SO2) emitted by the volcano. GBI issued dust masks for use, in the event ash or other airborne volcanic debris became a problem. The air quality was monitored constantly for unsafe levels of sulfur dioxide.  We are happy to report that gas levels never exceeded the lower daily exposure limit, but we did see a light fallout of volcanic grit and “Pele’s hair” (volcanic glass fibers or thin strands of volcanic glass).

This project required ripping the top two to three feet of raw pahoehoe lava using a D10 and D9 dozer. Mass grading was integral to the ripping process; material was pushed from high areas into lower areas to establish a rough roadbed. Next, the dozers would “walk” down the roadbed to break down and smooth out the ripped lava. A 20-ton grid roller was used to further break down and smooth the road surface. This process produced a row of rubble along both sides of the road. The rubble was pulled into the roadbed using a Hopto and 336 excavator and then processed into gravel using a mobile jaw crusher. The gravel was spread over the roadbed using the D9 dozer; it filled the spaces between cobbles in “bony” areas to create a smoother roadbed. Pulling lava rocks into—and using them as part of—the roadbed also ensured the lava would not be cast aside, a directive relayed to the team during the project blessing.

The scope of work for this project included the rough grading of 0.7 miles of roadway that was 24 feet wide; excavation of approximately 14,000 CY of solid basalt; and crushing of approximately 4,000 CY of basalt.

GBI was proud to partner with the local officials and businesses who made this evacuation route a high priority in the interest of public safety. These partners include the Hawaii State Department of Transportation, National Park Service, Hawai‘i County Police Department, and Island Topsoil.

Chain of Craters Road

Big Island - Chain of Craters Rd

Big Island - Chain of Craters Rd

Big Island - Chain of Craters Rd

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