Hawaii News — Pahoa Developer and Contractor Pitches ‘Lava Bridge’

Bryson's flexible portable safe lava tube bridgeBy Pooch Harrington

Bryson Kuwahara has pitched to the newly elected governor a plan for a “flexible, portable safe lava tube bridge” he says will ensure access to lower Puna once the lava crosses key arterial roads in the area.

Kuwahara is planning a $20 million shopping center on his nearly 10 acre lot near the intersection of Kahakai Boulevard and Pahoa Village Road.  Construction commenced earlier this year after council members approved a commercial rezoning for Kuwahara’s property at 15-2714 Pahoa Village Road.

Since construction started, Pahoa has been threatened by lava flowing from the Pu’u O’o vent of the Kilauea volcano.

Kuwahara wrote the governor on Dec. 5 and submitted an open letter to Big Island Chronicle urging residents who support his idea to contact the governor and both state and county officials to encourage them to implement it.

“What we are trying to do is to ask the State of Hawaii to support and fund the idea to set up a bridge over the lava so the people of Pahoa would have access to Highway 130,” Kuwahara writes. “This bridge would be built mostly on private land with the approval signed by the property owners involved.”

His pitch offers scenarios for both a one-lane road and a two-lane road.

“After the flow has formed a thick enough crust,” which Kuwahara estimates to be about a week with no break outs, “bring in a large excavator that is able to level the road alignment and extend over the hardened surface.”

“Then, haul in coarse rough 6″ plus red cinder to crate a two feet thick leveled roadway surface, slowly reaching out with the excavator boom and building a road.” Kuwahara refers to Ken Hon, professor of geology and volcanology at UH Hilo, who maintains that rough red cinder has many air pockets and void that dissipates heat.

Kuwahara states that one of the most readily available pre-engineered platform flat rack frame is the 8′ x 40′ x 2′ thick Matson deck used for ocean transports.

“These frames can carry the weight of heavy truck traffic,” he notes, adding that they have been used for building bridges.

“Think how strong these frames must be to withstand the punishment of being stacked very high and all of the motions of a ship at rough seas,” Kuwahara writes.

He suggests attaching three lengths of the frames in a row with a heavy chain connection or a hinge system, creating a “120′ flexible two join deck for vehicle traffic.”

“Because lava can inflate and deflate with volume flowing underneath the surface, the joints can flex,” he writes.

He notes that according to Hon, the tube system will develop somewhere in the lava field within a month of the flow.  “This is the most dangerous area to cross over,” Kuwahara writes.  “Depending on the volume of lava coming down, the top area of the tube is very weak and unstable.  This tube can be full or empty on the top part, creating a void that can collapse with weight.” He suggests that the tube’s location be identified through thermal imaging equipment, and then the three section deck he envisions can be placed and centers over the tube.  “Install some kind of combination of thermal blankets, stainless pipe and water cooling system in this hot area,” he writes.

Kuwahara offers schematics to illustrate his vision.

He states that the cost for one flat rack frame is $10,000. Six frames would be needed for a single-land road, so the cost would be approximately $60,000.  Twelve frames would be needed for a double-land road, so the cost would be about $120,000.

“Should the lava tube have a breakout above the bridge area, it is possible to lift and move the entire frame, using three bulldozers,” Kuwahara writes.  “Attach two bulldozers with chains on the ripper, lift up, pull and using the third bulldozer to push from the rear, to after, away from oncoming lava.  Let the lava pass and cool. Level roadbed and lay cinder base again.  Then pull back and reuse the framework over the tube system again.”

Kuwahara maintains that his bridge idea will work because the deck will be very strong.

“Even if the ground does settle in the tube area, the bridge will not collapse.  More sections can be added, if needed,” he states. “The deck frames are readily available from Matson or the mainland.  Rough red cinder is also available eight miles away from the present lava flow.”

The length, width and roughness of the top surface terrain of the lava field will determine the cinder cost, but a 30-yard truckload costs $400, Kuwahara notes.

He also points out that the system is reusable when another layer of lava flows.

Kuwahara has been in contact with Hilo Councilman Dennis Onishi and Kevin Dayton, the executive assistant to Mayor Billy Kenoi.  He says he and others are in the planning stages to build an experimental bridge over the lava inundated Cemetery Road in Pahoa.

With the advice and expertise of Hon, engineers with the County of Hawaii Public Works, and the Hawaii Island staff of the Department of Transportation, “we can learn, improve and come up with the best solution for the Puna Lava Bridge.”

Kuwahara hopes that if the experimental bridge proves successful, the state and the county will construct portable bridges on Pahoa Village Road, Highway 130 and Kahakai Boulevard in the event lava inundates those roads.

An excavation contractor for the past 39 years and a four-generation resident of Pahoa, Kuwahara is hopeful he can be part of a team “in saving access to Puna and its lifestyle.”

He notes that he and his crew assisted in the construction of the Railroad Avenue bypass, which is expected to be used once lava crosses Highway 130 and blocks access to lower Puna.

“With my fellow Puna contractors, we have enough excavators, bulldozers and dump trucks, to assist in whatever direction the county and state decide to take,” Kuwahara writes. “Saving access to Puna is vital to its recovery and well being for everyone who lives in the area.”

To weigh in on the matter, call Ige at (808)586-0034, or submit testimony via fax at (808)586-0006 or via mail to the Executive Chambers, State Capitol, 415 S. Beretania St., Honolulu, HI  96813.

Pooch Harrington is a writer in Puna.

9 replies
  1. Hazen Komraus
    Hazen Komraus says:

    while i think a bridge is a huge risk i applaud anyone for trying anything, not doing anything will produce nothing, there are many lessons to be learned in experiments!

  2. Sara steiner
    Sara steiner says:

    See, now this is absolutely brilliant! Pele brings with her new creative forces for coexistence. This is way better than driving for a day to go to Hilo, do your errands and return. I will write my new governor right away!

  3. joy cash
    joy cash says:

    US Army corp of engineers for decades have had & operated river spanning bridges strong enough to support tanks & heavy armored vehicles.
    Bridges should solve our pending local lava obstruction problems.

  4. greg owen
    greg owen says:

    I gotta give Bryson credit….he doesn’t quit. However if this very risky plan goes through it will among other things be a disincentive for the community to be less”SUSTAINABLE”. Modern Americans need to shop every day….most Americans if fact worship at the mall….buy this, then CONSUME and then drive to the dump to throw the rubbish away. Too many of our Puna residents want their cake and eat it too…..they want this place to stay HAWAII and they want all the creature comforts of America. Puna was about to turn into California….what, with a 50 megawatt facility On Pohoiki road, A10 acre mall and a Widened highway….the BOOM was really kicking in…..the hi makamaka coast haoles in Waa Waa were planning on the boom and wanted to see a Coastal highway all the way to the malls in Hilo….frick the BOOM. And I gotta ask Bryson will the potential mall Renters pay the big bucks and secure financing from Banks when the HOT LAVA IS RIGHT OVER THE HORIZON. Mahalo PELE MA AND MAHALO AKUA

  5. NeighborWatch
    NeighborWatch says:

    Hilarious, Boys and their toys. Yea let’s build a bridge since the dam ain’t gonna work. Scurry Scurry here she comes. I gotta agree with GO, try wait! everyone wanted a round-a-bout at that intersection, right? Jim? Well now Pele goin make you go round about 80 miles to live like Hana at the end of the road.
    Might be THE place to move to once all the ‘white-flight-Seattlite-suburbanites’ move north of the flow.
    So they won’t miss any of those shopping days until xmas.
    LOL Ho Ho HO

  6. Brian Jordan
    Brian Jordan says:

    Sounds like Marshall Matting from WWII. I wonder if the DoD ever kept any after the war? I love any idea that keeps us from driving 100 miles. I have fruit, lettuce and a Generator. I can hunt.
    What I can’t do is appreciate senseless nasty remarks. If you aren’t part of the solution you may be part of the problem. Suggest a more practical idea and show us how bright you are.. The human race is fine sometimes they just aren’t patient with each other.

  7. Kelly
    Kelly says:

    Marsden matting.
    Was it Einstein;
    “If you’re not part of the solution
    then you’re part of the precipitate”?

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