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Transportation department says it remains prepared if lava impacts highway

maunaloa mauna loa saddle road daniel k inouye highway
Marco Garcia/AP
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FR132414 AP
In this long camera exposure, cars drive down Saddle Road, also known as Daniel K. Inouye Highway, as Maunaloa erupts in the distance, Monday, Nov. 28, 2022, near Hilo, Hawaiʻi. Maunaloa, the world's largest active volcano erupted for the first time in 38 years. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

Many people are breathing a sigh of relief after officials declared lava is no longer an imminent threat to the main highway across the Big Island.

Lava from Maunaloa, which began erupting Nov. 27 after being quiet for 38 years, was 1.76 miles from Saddle Road, also known as Route 200 or Daniel K. Inouye Highway, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

Crowds are still flocking to the lava viewing areas and Hawaiʻi Island Mayor Mitch Roth announced that starting Saturday, the county will start allowing tour vehicles with 15 or fewer passengers into the viewing route.

With the slowing of the lava flow, The Conversation spoke with Ed Sniffen, the new director of the Hawaiʻi Department of Transportation under the Green administration. He was most recently the highways administrator under the Ige administration.

"I hope the public understands that we are not taking a breath here. Madame Pele is taking a breather right now. And we're watching to see. There's all kinds of potentials," Sniffen told The Conversation. "We're making sure that we're prepared for it, both a full overrun of the highway and a partial impact. And we're going to make sure we have plans in place so that connectivity continues throughout."

"Very lucky for us that the lava has slowed," he said. "Looking like it's a far shot for the lava to get to Daniel K. Inouye Highway, but we're still prepared."

Aside from the Maunaloa news, Sniffen said to look for Green to unveil his 100-day plan for the state, which will address the vision for Hawaiʻi's highways, harbors and airports.

This interview aired on The Conversation on Dec. 9, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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