Final segment of highway is paved


By TOM CALLIS

Tribune-Herald staff writer

Some roads deserve a name that says more about it than a mere number on a map. Highway 137 is one of them.

From lava fields to thick jungle that appear ready to engulf vehicles that dare to test its many curves, this winding road along the coast of Puna is not lacking in character.

Despite its many features, there was one — a reddish tinge from the volcanic cinders used to pave it in the 1960s — that earned it the moniker “Red Road.”

But progress has little need for such adorations, and last week, the final remaining stretch of rusty red roadway was smoothed over with a fresh coat of black pavement.

“It’s the end of the red,” said Noelani Whittington, a spokeswoman with Hawaii County Public Works.

The worn stretch of cinder making its last stand was between the intersection of Highway 132 and Ahalanui Park, also known as the “hot pond.”

Whittington said county crews started repaving the 3.3-mile section in late March as part of general maintenance.

Despite it involving the last remaining stretch of red left, the $400,000 project occurred without the controversy changes to the road once stirred in the local community.

More than a dozen years ago, Puna residents had sought to save its color, even seeking to paint newly paved portions.

Harry Kim, who was mayor at the time, said the county had dismissed using cinder for repaving due to its inflated cost.

“The Red Road community was really getting concerned about how bad it was getting,” he said.

Something needed to be done, Kim said, though he understood that its unique color was special to those who lived near it.

But painting it red, as some had suggested, proved unfeasible and possibly unsafe, he said.

The idea never came to fruition.

Athena Peanut, who served as president of the now-defunct group Friends of the Red Road, said she was unaware that the last portion was being paved over.

The same probably goes for most people in the area, she said.

“I’m very disappointed,” Peanut said.

“… They won’t do that again.”

Peanut said many Puna residents have become concerned about other issues, such as geothermal, which is why she believes they lost focus on the road.

She said the color reminded her of Native American references to the “Good Red Road,” which represented a spiritual path.

Though the red is gone, Peanut said she believes the name will last.

“We always say, ‘On the Red Road,’” she said.

“I think it will stick for a long time.”

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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